Bangalore - The star-studded Air India huffed and puffed to a 4-2 win over Jharkhand here on Sunday to set up a semi-final clash with hosts Karnataka in Hockey India’s senior men’s National Hockey Championship.
Meanwhile, defending champions Haryana and Punjab came through some tricky moments for a workmanlike 4-2 win over an inexperienced Manipur while Karnataka chalked up an unimpressive 2-1 result against Tamil Nadu and Punjab shrugged off a one-goal deficit to beat Railway Sports Control Board 5-1.
Air India, courtesy twin strikes by their India stars Arjun Halappa (13th, 63rd) and Shivendra Singh (39th, 66th) saw off a spirited challenge from Jharkhand for whom Diwakar Ram (37th) and Anil Xaxa (58th) scored in a tight match.
Air India survived thanks to their goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh whose sharp reflexes and anticipation saw him bringing off several good saves to repeatedly frustrate Jharkhand.
Leading the Haryana charge was former India forward Bharat Chhikara who opened the scoring with goals in the third and sixth minutes while Mandeep Antil (43rd) and Didar Singh (44th) netted one apiece.
Manipur, playing in their maiden quarter-final game at this level, went down fighting with penalty corner goals by Jayantakumar Meitel (31st, 60th) keeping them in the frame, but Haryana held their ground in the last 10 minutes.
With a bit more experience and a sharper finish, Manipur could have troubled Haryana who boasted several India players in their ranks, but that was not to be.
Later, Karnataka, courtesy two first-half goals by M.K. Mudappa (29th) and P.L. Thimmanna (32nd), did just enough to overcome a fighting Tamil Nadu who had their chances, especially in the second-half, but failed to convert them.
The rival goalkeepers Olympian Sreejesh (Tamil Nadu) and Tarun Thammanna gave a good account of themselves to deny more goals, but it was a touch-and-go for the home team that will have to pull up their collective socks if they hope to go all the way in the tournament.
In the third quarter-final match, Punjab, who led 3-1 at half-time after conceding an early goal when B. Horo scored off a Vinod Kumar pass in the fifth minute, were stretched to the limit by Railways whose rather slack defence let them down.
Punjab’s penalty corner specialist Gurjinder Singh again led the scorers’ list with two conversions (12th, 47th) after Gurbaj Singh opened the account in the seventh minute, finding the boards from a goalmouth scramble.
Young Akashdeep Singh (31st) and Prabhdeep Singh (52nd) scored the other goals for Punjab who as in the previous matches, woke up rather late, but once in the groove, did not look back.
The results (quarter-finals):
Haryana 4 (Bharat Chhikara 3rd, 6th; Mandeep Antil 43rd; Didar Singh 44th) beat Manipur 2 (Jayantakumar Meitel 31st, 60th).
Karnataka 2 (M.K. Mudappa 29th; P.L. Thimanna 32nd) beat Tamil Nadu 0.
Punjab 5 (Gurjinder Singh 12th, 47th; Gurbaj Singh 7th; Akashdeep Singh 31st; Prabhdeep Singh 52nd) beat Railway Sports Control Board 1 (B. Horo 5th).
Air India 4 (Arjun Halappa 13th, 63rd; Shivendra Singh 39th, 66th) beat Jharkhand 2 (Diwakar Ram 37th, Anil Xaxa 58th).