Sahara Champions Challenge Day 6: Argentina qualify for Champions Trophy, Belgium claim bronze
10 Apr 2005 13:01
The last day of the Sahara Champions Challenge in Alexandria started off with the match for 5th/6th place between Egypt and South Africa, the pool match between the two teams five days ago having ended with a 4-1 win for South Africa. South Africa also started off as the dominating team today, scoring 3 unanswered goals in the first half and adding two more before Egypt managed to first get on the scoreboard. And they were well served with having taken their lead to 5 goals early, as in the latter stages of the game, Egypt got stronger and had numerous chances. But having waited until the 64th minute to score, the hosts could not manage more than 2 goals in the game, and South Africa were never in any real danger. Nonetheless, the rivalry on the pitch between the two eternal continental rivals was intense as usual, and the match saw a total of 4 green and 5 yellow cards.
Next up on this day of classification matches was the encounter between England and Belgium. While the pool game between the two European sides in the tournament had seen England claim a two goal lead in the first half only to be held to a tie by Belgium in the end, events took a contrary course this time with Belgium getting on the scoreboard first to have England play catch-up. The first half of the match already was intense but in the second half, events spiralled out of control, the pace of the game frantic, and the goals kept coming: from minute 49, a goal was scored roughly every three and a half minutes, including four goals in the last ten minutes of the game. Belgium had held the lead until the 49th minute but allowed England to equalize through a goal by Jonty Clarke, then they pulled ahead again only to have England catch up again. Belgium regained the lead yet again and even managed to extend it to two goals in the 68th minute. Engalnd were able to score one more for a 5-6 final result, but time ran out on them and they had to concede victory to Belgium.
The Belgian largely have to thank Jean-Philippe Brulé for who achieved an incredible 100% penalty corner conversion rate today, scoring 5 goals from as many corners, in the process claiming the joint topscorer title shared with Korean Jung Seon Lee. This aspect of their game was later complimented on by English coach Jason Lee who said that anyone who had a penalty corner team that could score 5 out of 5 in a game like this had a significant asset in international hockey. Belgian coach Gilles Bonnet pointed out that this had indeed been an important part of their strategy today, to make use of set pieces and keep ahead of the chase. Bonnet also showed himself impressed with the English performance, saying that they were still young just like his own Belgian team but clearly a very talented group of players.
With the match for 3/4th place having been heartstoppingly exciting, the final had much to live up to but expectations were not disappointed. In their pool match, Korea had despite the tied final result been the better side and Argentina had been considered lucky to have picked up one point but today, the tables were turned. Korea played aggressively and attacked from the beginning, but the Argentine defense was almost from another planet. Goalkeeper Juan Manuel Vivaldi pulled some incredible saves, but most of the time, Korea did not even get to launching shots on goal, having the ball taking off them time and again near or in the circle by the Argentine defense around Orozco, Hourquebie, Riccardi, and Oscaris. But despite the defense's superb performance, the man of the match can only be veteran Jorge Lombi who at 33 remains a deadly striker and one of the Argentine team's supporting pillars and contributed 4 of Argentina's five goals in this Sahara Champions Challenge final. Having been called past his prime for some time, he left no doubt today that he still has all the skills, speed, class, and style a top international forward needs.
While Korea thus saw their many attacks stifled, Argentina had fewer opportunities but used them wisely, managing to build a two goal lead by the fifteenth minute. From there, they struggled a little, holding on to their advantage but unable to increase it until the 45th minute. Soon after Korea scored the first of their two goals today, both by sensational striker Jung Seon Lee, but Argentina did not permit them to diminish their lead to less than two goals. Then a penalty corner went awry in the 65th minute, the ball coming in too far to the left of stopper Orozco, but the Argentine captain managed to recover it, and when he capitalized on the seemingly lost opportunity and win his team a three goal lead, Argentina were ready to start celebrating.
And Argentina had much to celebrate tonight: not only did they put forward an fantastic performance and win the game, but in winning this event, Argentina have won a berth in the 2006 Champions Trophy, a second season highlight for them next year after the World Cup in Mönchengladbach, Germany that they already have qualified for. Additionally, their team captain German Orozco, who completed his 200th cap today and will be all the more thrilled for his jubilee to have been a significant and excellent match and for having scored a goal himself, was declared the best player of the tournament.