What’s the story?
Defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors ended their Hockey India League campaign on a bittersweet note as they defeated the UP Wizards 1-0 in their final league game thanks to a Mink van der Weerden penalty corner conversion. However, the five points were not enough for them to qualify for the semi-finals as their opponents also picked up a point due to the one-goal margin of victory.
Barry Dancer, the side’s Australian coach, said that he and his players were disappointed with their performance but he took pride in the fact that they never let their morale drop and fought till the very end.
“We had high expectations going into the tournament, so we’re naturally disappointed. Our performances were too inconsistent. But I’m happy that we finished on a high note and we played very well against Kalinga (Lancers) and the UP Warriors,” he said.
He heaped praise on his side’s skipper Sardar Singh, who was removed as the national team captain before the Rio Olympics, and stated that he did not understand why people criticised his performances. “I admire Sardar. He is an outstanding leader and plays with great conviction and desire. He has a big heart and gives his all for the team’s cause. I’m very pleased to have worked with him,” Dancer added.
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The Punjab Warriors entered the match knowing that they had to win by a margin of three goals or more, but were unable to do so despite their best efforts. They had endured defeats in their previous four matches, though, and will be happy to end the campaign on a positive note.
The Wizards had drawn their previous encounter 1-1 against the Delhi Waveriders and in their second match in their temporary home at the Shivaji Stadium in Delhi, they suffered a narrow loss.
The heart of the matter
Coming to the match itself, it was a game of missed chances as both sides squandered a host of opportunities in front of goal. Punjab’s custodian Tristan Clemons put in a splendid performance and was awarded the Man of the Match trophy after the game. The Wizards earned three penalty corners and the Warriors four, out of which one was converted in the 35th minute.
Punjab pressed at a high tempo and in the third quarter, they were able to steal the ball high up the pitch and broke with pace. The resulting shot was blocked by a defender’s foot and the side were awarded a short corner, which their ace Dutch drag-flicker fired into the net.
The Warriors would have wanted to return to Chandigarh to play in the semi-finals but will be unable to do so as they missed out on the top four. Meanwhile, the UP Wizards will travel to Lucknow to take on Dabang Mumbai, who have already booked their berth in the semis.
It was heartening to see Dancer stand up in defence of his captain in the post-match press conference. Sardar has been an extremely valuable player for India over the years and while he has received his share of criticism, his drive and passion can never be questioned.