Salta: Indias hopes of booking a berth in next years Champions Trophy were shattered after they went down fighting to arch rivals Pakistan 3-6 in a thrilling semi-final encounter of the Champions Challenge I hockey tournament.
In-form India, who were Group A toppers with an unbeaten record, failed to find the bearings in the match. Though they dominated for most part, however, the Indians failed to convert the chances that came their way. Pakistan, on contrary scored from the few chances they got and were 3-1 up at the end of half-time.
The Indians will now face Argentina for the third-place playoff while Pakistan will play New Zealand in the summit clash.
The champion will qualify for the 2010 Champions Trophy in Monchengladbach, Germany. New Zealand had beaten Argentina 3-2 in the other semi-final.
The Indians scored from the penalty corners via Dhananjay Mahadik (eighth and 62nd minutes) and Diwakar Ram (67th minute).
For Pakistan, Rehan Butt (2nd, 29th and 64th) scored a hattrick of field goals while Sohail Abbas (32nd, 70th) found the target twice and Haseem Khan (58th) got one.
As early as the second minute, goalkeeper Adrian DSouza failed to stop a seemingly harmless shot by Rehan Butt to concede the lead to Pakistan and from then onwards India were doing the catch-up job.
India though equalised quickly in the 8th minute with Dhananjay Mahadik sounding the board with a well-executed corner. India were then playing with an one-man advantage with a Pakistani player cooling off for five minutes at the bench for a dangerous foul.
Adrian made up for his initial mistake by stopping Rehan at the top of circle. But there was little he could do on a phenomenal shot by Rehan in 29th minute which gave Pakistan the lead.
Penalty-corner specialist Sohail Abbas then found the target three minutes later and Pakistan were leading 3-1 going into the breather.