UP Wizards complete semi-final line-up

Uttar Pradesh Wizards confirmed its place as the last team in the semi-finals of the fifth Hockey India League (HIL) after finishing with a 4-4 draw against table-topper Dabang Mumbai in its and the season’s last league match on Wednesday.

Despite earning a draw, Uttar Pradesh Wizards made it to the semifinals.   -  Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Uttar Pradesh Wizards confirmed its place as the last team in the semi-finals of the fifth Hockey India League (HIL) after finishing with a 4-4 draw against table-topper Dabang Mumbai in its and the season’s last league match here on Wednesday.

The result puts UPW third on the table, level on points with Delhi Waveriders put ahead on goal difference, and would now take on last year's runner up Kalinga Lancers in the semi-finals. Mumbai would play Delhi in the other semi-final on Saturday.

It was a match with two contrasting halves. It was an open game that saw both teams creating a lot of space and while both teams went all out on the attack and counter-attack in the first two quarters, they preferred to hold on to the goals already scored in the last two, only foraying into the other's half occasionally. UPW had to lose by a margin of 10 goals or more for Ranchi Rays, the third team on 23 points, to have any hope of advancing but once it was clear that was not to be, both teams seemed to be content trying out their personnel and variations instead of going for an all-out victory.

UPW was clearly the more enterprising team early on, playing at home and wanting to win. Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh repeatedly got into the opposition circle to trouble David Harte but found the Irish difficult to breach. Defenders Arthur van Doren and VR Raghunath moved far up to link up the attack, putting Akashdeep and Ramandeep through. Along with youngster Ajay Yadav and Shamsher Singh, the UPW attack had more flair.

Repeated shots at the goal in the 11th minute from Ramandeep and Yadav saw the latter finally get one in from an acute angle after being put through Raghunath from the 25-yard line. UPW again went ahead in the 17th minute when Ramandeep, getting the ball from Raghunath, dodged past two defenders to slap a backhand shot in.

Mumbai, though, did not sit back, content to finish on top of the table. Jay Stacy's team built its chances around counters and while UPW took lead twice, Mumbai came back with a leveller within two minutes on both occasions. While Gurjant Singh took advantage of an out-of-position PR Sreejesh in the 13th minute, Manpreet Singh made use of a wrong-footed, unsighted Sreejesh to score in the 19th.

Once the end-to-end action was over and the teams settled into a rhythm, however, it was more about keeping possession and taking only sporadic chances at the goal. Akashdeep and Yadav came close a number of times in the remaining 30 minutes, as did Nikkin Thimmaiah, but couldn't convert. Interestingly, with some of the best penalty corner experts in the ranks, neither team even attempted to get one till the very end but UPW's only PC seven seconds from time was hit wide by Gonzalo Peillat.

The result: Uttar Praesh Wizards 4 (Ajay Yadav 2 FG, Ramandeep Singh 2 FG) drew with Dabang Mumbai 4 (Gurjant Singh 2 FG, Manpreet Singh 2 FG).