Champions Trophy history: from Lahore 1978 to Breda 2018

Champions Trophy history: from Lahore 1978 to Breda 2018
by Sander Collewijn

Put the six strongest hockey nations together in a single group and let them all play against each other. Then let the first and second in the group play against each other in a final. That, in effect, is the successful recipe for the Champions Trophy, a tournament with its roots in Pakistan and an enduring favourite among hockey fans.

The introduction of the Hockey Pro League in 2019 means there will no longer be any room on the fixtures calendar for the Champions Trophy. But this is not the time for regrets. The aim of this series is to look back at some of the best moments of Champions Trophy hockey in the past 40 years.

Pakistan’s invention in 1978

It was during the World Cup in Buenos Aires in 1978 that Nur Khan, a decorated air marshal and president of the Pakistan hockey association, spoke out in favour of a new national tournament, which would only feature the best teams in the world. The FIH liked the idea, and that same year, the first edition was held in Lahore, in the stadium now used by the Pakistan cricket team. The rules have changed little since then. The host country, the defending champion, the world champion and the Olympic champion get a ticket, and there are wild cards.

Pakistan won the first event in 1978 and Hanif Khan was the first top scorer with five goals. The tournament was held in Pakistan in 1980 and 1981, this time in Karachi. Pakistan won again in 1980 but in 1981, the Netherlands took the title and the first ever trophy – made of five kilos of pure silver.

Pakistan has won that massive silver trophy just three times in 40 years. This is mainly due to the switch to artificial turf that has hit countries such as Pakistan and India, who are wizards on real grass.

Australia leads the winners’ table

Despite the trophy’s Pakistani roots, it is Australia who have the most victories to their name. The current defending champions, Australia have taken the title no less than 14 times in its history. Germany is in second place with 10 wins and the Netherlands third, with eight.

It is hard to say who is favourite this time round. Host country, the Netherlands, was European champion in 2015 and 2017 and was second at the 2014 World Cup. But their last win in the Champions Trophy goes back to 2006. Belgium is a current favourite. The Red Lions were second at the Rio Olympics and in last year’s European championships but have yet to win a title. Argentina, the dark horse in Rio in 2016, are the current Olympic champions, thanks to penalty corner ace Gonzalo Peillat.

Will Pakistan and India work their magic again?

India is currently coached by Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne. They picked up the Asia Cup last year and lost the 2016 Champions Trophy final to Australia. And Pakistan, also with a Dutch coach in the shape of Roelant Oltmans, want to show that they can still play a role in international hockey, and have not been invited out of a sense of nostalgia. The Champions Trophy is, for both countries, a chance to show that they are still among the best in the world, ahead of the World Cup in India.

Australia too has a strong reputation to defend in this last edition of the Champions Trophy. The Aussies could pick up their 15th title and are again among the favourites.  Australia is reining world champion, Champions Trophy defending title-holder and winner of the last Hockey World League in December.

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