Salta Argentina:India's hopes of booking a berth in next year's Champions Trophy were shattered as they went down fighting to arch rivals Pakistan 3-6 in a thrilling semifinal encounter of the Champions Challenge I hockey tournament here.
In-form India, who were Group A toppers with an unbeaten record, failed to find the bearings at the last four match.
They dominated for most part of the match but failed to convert the chances that came their way.
As is often happened in Indian hockey team, the opponents scored from the few chances they got and Pakistan were 3-1 up at the end of half time.
The match was the usual classic exhibition of hockey artistry which is the case when the two sides clash but that was of no use for India.
India now face Argentina for the third-place play-off. Pakistan play New Zealand in the summit clash and winner will qualify for the 2010 Champions Trophy in Monchengladbach, Germany.
New Zealand had beaten Argentina 3-2 in the other semifinal.
All the Indian goals came from penalty corners through Dhananjay Mahadik (eighth and 62nd minutes) and Diwakar Ram (67th minute).
For Pakistan, Rehan Butt (2nd, 29th and 64th) scored a hat-trick 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 D'Souza 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 eighth minute with Dhananjay Mahadik sounding the board with a well-executed penalty corner. India were then playing with one-man advantage with a Pakistani player cooling off for five minutes at the bench for a dangerous foul.
India had the momentum after that equaliser and Salman Akbar in the Pakistani goal faced a barrage of shots after spectacular moves that pleased the crowd.
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.
After resumption, India got a couple of chances only to be wasted. Excellent work by captain Rajpal Singh earned them a penalty-corner but India could not convert it.
They had a long period of domination, with a massive chance for Rajpal after a quick series of passes in the circle, but his deflection on the far post was just wide.
With time ticking on, India pressed more players upfront, exposing in the process their defence and Pakistan increased the lead via quick counterattacks.
Haseem Khan took advantage of the huge gaps at the India defence and scored an opportunistic goal in the 58th minute, pushing the Pakistani lead to three goals.
A flurry of four goals were scored at both ends in the last eight minutes. Dhananjay Mahadik scored from a penalty-corner in the 62nd minute to make it 4-2 but Rehan Butt neutralised it two minutes later to maintain the Pakistan lead to three goals and completed a hat-trick of field goals in the process.
Diwakar Ram converted a penalty corner three minutes from time but Sohail Abbas made it 6-3 in the last minute via a penalty stroke after his last penalty corner was stopped illegally by the Indians.