Punjab Warriors to face Kalinga Lancers in HIL title clash

Kalinga not only kept the host tied down throughout the 60 minutes but, also had an impeccable defence that repelled everything Ranchi threw at it.

Kalinga Lancers celebrate their semi-final win against the Ranchi Rays.   -  Manob Chowdhury

Defending champion Ranchi Rays faltered in the semi-finals against Kalinga Lancers here on Saturday, losing 4-2 in the shoot-out after being tied 2-2 in regulation time in the fourth edition of the Hockey India League.

Kalinga not only kept the host tied down throughout the 60 minutes but, also had an impeccable defence that repelled everything Ranchi threw at it. Reaching the final for the first time ever, its reward would be a title clash against Punjab Warriors, who won 3-1 against Delhi Waveriders in the other semi-final.

The table topper in league games by quite a margin — Ranchi had an unbeaten record at home — had a five-day break even as other teams were fighting for qualification, with vociferous crowd behind them all through.

On Saturday, it fought back twice to take the game into penalties. In the end, nothing mattered.

Moritz Fuerste came out tops in the battle of midfield marshals for Kalinga against Ashley Jackson and his former side. Jackson, the talisman for Ranchi, did everything right on the field but, couldn't find the scoring touch. His nemesis was Amit Rohidas, who rushed out every time and blunted Jackson's powerful hits.

Ranchi had at least a dozen chances to score. It couldn't make them count. Dodgy in the first two quarters, it settled and went on the offensive in the last two. The defence held up firm and the attacks kept coming, orchestrated by Manpreet at the back and pushed forward by Barry Middleton and Jackson. But the final shot didn't materialise.

Kalinga played to a plan. Its master scorer Glenn Turner a marked man, coach Mark Hager admitted alternatives were put to play. S.K. Uthappa was pulled back and Lalit Upadhyay and Aran Zalewski were given more responsibility upfront. Fuerste was the lynchpin of the unit. Kalinga got two penalty corners and converted both, Gurjinder and Fuerste getting on the scoresheet.

The other semi-final was sedate in comparison. Delhi looked lethargic and out of sorts with few attacks and Punjab took full advantage of it. It dominated the proceeding and even though Delhi went ahead early on through a penalty corner in the sixth minute, it was a Punjab game all the way. Armaan Qureshi's reverse hit from the top of the striking circle to put Punjab ahead was all class and Simon Orchard's rebound shot off Punjab's penalty corner cemented the victory.

Delhi would now take on Ranchi in the bronze medal play-off in a replay of the title clash three years ago and a hurting host has made it clear it wouldn't want to leave the crowd disappointed. Going by Saturday's game, Delhi has a battle on its hands. As for the final, Fuerste has already lifted the title once and the German star would be hoping to do it again. For Punjab, though, it would be hoping to get third time lucky.

Results:

Punjab Warriors 3 (Armaan Qureshi 2 FG, Simon Orchard PC) bt Delhi Waveriders 1 (Rupinder Pal Singh PC); Kalinga Lancers 2 (Gurjinder Singh, Moritz Fuerste) bt Ranchi Rays (Trent Mitton, Timothy Deavin).

Sunday's matches: 3rd place playoff: RR vs DWR (3 pm), final: PW vs KL (5.30 pm).