HIL: Dabang Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh Wizards on cusp of maiden final

Uttar Pradesh Wizards would be looking at making its first-ever final against last year's runner-up Kalinga Lancers in a battle between two of the best defensive sides.

Dabang Mumbai will rely on skipper Florian Fuchs to deliver the goods. The German is the top-scorer at the moment.   -  Getty Images

When Dabang Mumbai takes the field against Delhi Waveriders in the fifth Hockey India League (HIL) here on Saturday evening, it would be hoping to continue its tremendous form from the league stage against a team that is the only one of the four semifinalists to have won the title before.

Delhi would be looking to bank on all its experience of the big stage even though it has struggled this season, knowing well the league results do not matter now. It narrowly lost both its matches against Mumbai, got its first win only in its fifth game and suffered a scare in its last match before managing to hold on to a superior goal difference despite losing to Ranchi Rays and remain in the competition. As such, Cedric D'Souza's boys would be hoping to find their rhythm against the one team that has steamrolled every opposition in the last one month.

For that, they would have to make sure the defence remains compact and young Mandeep Singh, often left alone in the attack, has enough support. A return to form for captain Rupinderpal Singh in penalty corners would be a bonus. “We can’t afford to make the kind of mistakes we did in the league stage. Dabang Mumbai has been very consistent and we need to make sure we don’t miss out on the chances we create,” Rupinder Pal admitted.

Mumbai, led by German Florian Fuchs who is also the top-scorer at the moment, has had a contrasting journey so far. It is the only team to have never reached this stage before but became the first team to book a semifinal spot this time around, losing only two games. Mumbai's biggest strength has been its never-give-up attitude under Jay Stacy. Even after qualifying, the team has managed to keep the winning momentum, which has translated into winning four of 10 its matches in the final minute.

Defensive giants

In the other semifinal, Uttar Pradesh Wizards would be looking at making its first-ever final against last year's runner-up Kalinga Lancers in a battle between two of the best defensive sides. UPW’s best performance so far has been a third-place finish in the inaugural edition in 2013 and came closest to making the title clash in 2015 before losing 9-8 in shootouts.

The team would be looking to its drag-flick battery of V.R. Raghunath and Gonzalo Peillat to score even as the attack of Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Ajay Yadav has been impressive in recent games. But the team's biggest strength is its goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who has single-handedly kept them in the competition.

Kalinga, which has been in the city for almost a week since finishing its league engagements, is raring to get back to action and would be looking at going a step further this time around. Built around the foreign trio of Moritz Fuerste, Glenn Turner and Billy Bakker, Kalinga has conceded the maximum goals but also scored the second-highest.

Saturday's schedule: Semifinals: Kalinga Lancers v Uttar Pradesh Wizards (4.30 pm), Dabang Mumbai v Delhi Waveriders (7 pm).