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SPAIN SWEEP TO CHAMPIONS TROPHY GLORY

Two goals by Santi Freixa paved the way for Spain to triumph for the first time in the Champions Trophy when they beat the Netherlands 4-2 in the final. David Christison, WorldHockey media advisor and prominent Australian broadcaster reflects on the men’s Samsung Champions Trophy in Lahore.

The sights, sounds and smells of Lahore will stay with me for a long time. The hockey was fantastic; the accommodation and hospitality were superb and the venue facilities were most impressive.

This was my first visit to your wonderful city and I regret it has taken me so long to gain the experience.

The Samsung Champions Trophy was a celebration of hockey and drew great media attention across the sub-continent. There were 165 accredited media at the event but, sadly, only a handful from outside India and Pakistan. Fortunately the broadcast of the event ensured all competing nations had television coverage, either as entire matches or as news highlights.

The local media coverage (radio, television and press) was excellent if slightly antagonistic towards the International Hockey Federation (FIH) on three particular issues: the Player of the Year awards; the absence of the Australian team and the lack of major tournaments awarded to Pakistan. On each of these matters there seemed to be a local bias in the Pakistan media. Perhaps that leaning is understandable at the local level.

Facilities at the event for the media were generally excellent, including broadband and wireless Internet connection at no charge - a great benefit and one which all present greatly appreciated. There was also a suite of PCs with Internet access and printer connection within the media marquee. There was adequate on-site technical support throughout the event.

As usual at such events, we experienced the now customary technical glitches on the opening day but these were resolved by the second day of the tournament and little fault can be placed at the feet of the Pakistan Hockey Federation or their always helpful volunteers.

The media were accommodated in reserved undercover seating in the stands and at work stations in the media centre, which included a separate post-match media conference facility.

Congratulations to Agha Akbar for the excellent accreditation facilities and processing. All accreditations were handled smoothly and the tribune facility and level of access was more than adequate.

My thanks to my good friend Sardar Khan who stepped in and handled all the media conferences with his usual aplomb. He also worked closely with us to arrange the Player of the Year awards and a major media conference for the FIH President and PHF Secretary General. It is my view that Sardar should be recognised by PHF for his invaluable contribution.

For the international media who were present it was an enjoyable and relatively inexpensive experience highlighted by good hockey and new and renewed friendships.

 

THE PLAYERS WHO STARRED...

Before the tournament began, I was asked to write a preview of the Samsung Champions Trophy focusing on the 'players to watch' in each team.

At the time I suggested those who read the essay should watch not just those players but all the others who had gained the honour of representing their nations in Lahore.

I hope the readers took that advice for there were many who rose above our expectations in a tournament that presented a most entertaining spectacle.

It is impossible to go past Karel Klaver when reviewing the Samsung Champions Trophy.

Whenever we attend a men's hockey event we tend to look for the Dutch wizard Teun de Nooijer. But he has real competition for our attention following the nine days we spent in Lahore.

Karel Klaver showed the sort of goal scoring skills all players dream of having. The Netherlands team is always dangerous, but with Klaver in full flight the Dutch combination is lethal. His seven goals in six matches included a stunning hat-trick against Spain in the qualifying round.

His exhilarating play earned him the Top Scorer and Best Player awards at the Samsung Champions Trophy.

Klaver has now scored 36 goals in 90 internationals; not quite the goal-a-game record of some other strikers, but he also works hard when required in defence and is instrumental in regularly setting up scoring chances for his team-mates.

His form is all the more admirable when you consider that, just two years ago, he was hospitalised and placed under intensive care for three days after being hit in the head and rendered unconscious by a ball struck by Remco van Wijk in a practice match.

First time champions Spain unleashed a new, precocious talent on the hockey world in Lahore. At just 17 Sergi Enrique showed poise and maturity beyond his tender years. His defensive combination with the reliable Rodgrigo Garza was a highlight of Spain' stunning victory and testament to Maurits Hendriks' abilities in talent identification and player development.

Santi Freixa was always expected to be one of Spain's star players in Lahore. He certainly lived up to and exceeded the expectation, scoring five goals, including a pair in the final. His stay in Lahore also saw him secure the WorldHockey Young Player of the Year award, voted by the players at the event.

It has to be said that the host nation performed below expectations. For the most part Pakistan's forward structure lacked flair and cohesion.

The exception was Shakeel Abbasi who was voted Most Promising Player of the tournament. Shakeel shows the flair and grace that made the Greenshirts a feared opponent and a joy to watch throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately for the local fans, Shakeel lacked support, although Rehan Butt showed occasional glimpses of the form that can make him the world's best right side striker and midfielders Diliwar Hussain and Ghazanfar Ali also played well.

India's star was undoubtedly Adrain D'Souza. The young goalkeeper is one of the few who've been able to negate the scoring prowess of penalty corner specialists such as Sohail Abbas.

D'Souza's sprints to the top of the circle on penalty corners forced Pakistan to look for variations to their feared penalty corner routine. But perhaps the most amazing feat from D'Souza was to take his place in the bronze medal game after being carried off the pitch on a stretcher after suffering what appeared to be a serious hamstring injury just two days earlier against New Zealand.

Germany sent a 'development' team to Pakistan, with Philipp Crone and Eike Duckwitz the only players from the Athens Olympic campaign who made the trip to Lahore. Crone carried the mantle of captaincy for the first time in a major tournament and performed as we have come to expect from this seasoned veteran. He is a true on-field leader who enhanced an already strong reputation.

Midfielders Till Kriwet and Michael Purps also showed good form as Germany battled to fifth place to ensure their place in next year's event in Chennai.

Unlucky New Zealand suffered could have been in the bronze medal playoff but for a controversial penalty stroke awarded to India in their final qualifying game. The determined Kiwis were simply outgunned by the likes of Spain and the Netherlands and desperately need to find a replacement for penalty corner specialist Hayden Shaw who is taking a sabbatical from hockey to focus on his other sport of cricket.

Their most consistent player was the veteran Dion Gosling who, at 33, has been a mainstay in the NZ defence since making his debut in 1994. Of his team-mates, 28 year-old Blair Hopping and 32 year-old Wayne McIndoe were the most consistent - the ages of the Kiwis' better players show New Zealand must focus urgently on developing a new pool of talent.

Final:        Spain 4-2 Netherlands

Bronze:     Pakistan 3-2 India

5/6th place: Germany 2-1 New Zealand

 

 

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