Dutch done in by quirky format

When the format of the Champions Trophy was changed in 2012 it raised plenty of eyes and the Netherlands tasted the bitter side of it on Thursday, the eight-time winners crashing out after losing to Pakistan in the quarterfinals here.

Much to the surprise of many, governing body FIH decided to change the format of the tournament that appeared working perfectly fine. Under the new system, eight teams were pooled into two groups with all qualifying for the knock-out quarterfinals with the round-robin matches merely acting as tool to determine the seedings for the last-eight phase.

Netherlands, who topped Group B, locked horns with Group A bottom-placers Pakistan, who had lost all their matches. Seemingly conserving their energy knowing whatever they did in the pool phase had no bearing on their continuance in the event, three-time champions Pakistan came roaring in the quarterfinals -- the first actual significant contest of the event --  to floor the Oranje and storm into the semifinals with just their first victory.

 “The way to get to the quarterfinals is bad,” was Dutch coach Max Caldas’ assessment of the format prior to the quarterfinal match. “With the current format even if you lose all the pool games, you can still go on and win the tournament. The way to get to the quarterfinal or semifinals has to be improved. If you have one off game in the quarterfinals, you are knocked out. This implies that, the tournament actually starts from the quarterfinal stage onwards for all the eight participating teams.”

Designed to give even weaker teams a chance of competing in the business end of the tournament, FIH could have put some thought in before deciding to tamper with it. While the top two teams from the each group clashing in crossover semifinals would have added meaning and purpose to the league matches, the new format is particularly cruel for those who strive for victory in the early stages.

Powerhouse Australia, who could have been sent packing had only top two qualified for the semifinals, now remain in contention after downing a spirited Argentina.

“I said that a lot of times before that I’m not convinced that this is a good format,” said German coach Markus Wiese. “The group games don’t really count that much because all qualify for the quarterfinals. With one lucky game, you could end up finishing fourth despite having lost your previous three.

“That’s very strange for me. I like the old format with six teams with everyone playing each other and the top two playing in the final.”

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