National Women’s C’ship: Resilient SAI braces up for semifinal challenge

Faces Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy on Saturday; Haryana faces Maharashtra in the other semifinal.

SAI bumps into a side that plays a style of hockey similar to it. - P. V. SIVAKUMAR (REPRESENTATIVE)

Giant killer SAI has been a revelation in the ongoing 10th National Senior Women’s Hockey (A-division) championship.

The young SAI side earned the right to play in the A-division after winning the B-division title last year. SAI has consistently punched above its weight to reach the semifinals this year. The side has shown resilience against stronger teams. After a comeback draw against Haryana in the league, SAI beat last year’s runner-up Madhya Pradesh in the shootout in the quarterfinals.

SAI is hoping to continue its fine run when it meets Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy (MPHA) in the semifinals on Saturday.

Playing a brand of attacking hockey which is refreshing and attractive, SAI looks the favourite against MPHA. The core of the team is made of players from SAI Ranchi and is almost the same team that won the B division title last year.

'Full confidence'

Coach S. K. Mohanty was confident that his girls will beat MPHA and will qualify for its maiden final. “We play attacking hockey. We have made our opponents to play to our strength. Since the girls have been playing together for quite some time the understanding between them is great. MPHA is a good side but I have full confidence in my girls’ ability,” the coach said.

MPHA, which caused an upset by defeating Punjab in the quarterfinals, plays a style of hockey similar to SAI.

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The contest between two of the youngest sides in the tournament promises to be an interesting affair.

The other semifinal pits last year’s third-place finisher Haryana against Maharashtra.

Haryana, led by Olympian Poonam Rai, rediscovered its form in the quarterfinals against Odisha. Haryana dominated that match. Striker Deepika has been in fine form and delivered for her side in the tournament. However, Haryana’s defence has let in soft goals and Maharashtra will be hoping to take advantage of its rival’s weakness in the semifinal.

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