Highlights from the first Hockey India League semifinal
Conservative approach at the start
The Ranchi Rays came into the semifinals after a thrilling win against table toppers Jaypee Punjab Warriors in their last league game. Inspired by skipper Ashley Jackson’s hattrick, the Rays finished second in the points table. Both teams played with caution to not give away early goals in the crunch game. There were few attempts at goal, but no one succeeded in finding the back of the net. The first quarter ended 0-0.
It was an enterprising start to the second quarter by the Wizards as they tested the Rays’ defence with quick play. However, it was Rays who got the first penalty corner and Jackson stepped up to add to his goal tally. A brilliant save from Sreejesh denied Jackson and co. the lead. The Wizards counterattacked immediately and came close to scoring the first goal, but the attempt went wide much to goalkeeper Tyler Lovell’s relief.
The Rays got their second penalty corner and Jackson went for a variation by passing to Austin Smith. The South African’s attempt at goal was thwarted by Sreejesh yet again. Sreejesh denied Rays from scoring yet again as he saved their third penalty corner opportunity. The first half ended goalless.
Second half drama
The Wizards were the ones to go 1-0 up after Raghunath converted a penalty corner opportunity in the fourth minute of the third quarter. Mandeep Singh earned a penalty corner for the Rays in the 41st minute. The skipper Jackson made no mistake this time around converting the chance to level it at 1-1. Both sides looked for that one goal in the fourth quarter that could send them to the final, but it was difficult to penetrate the defence of their oppostition.
Rays got a wonderful opportunity with just two minutes left in the game to seal the deal, but Wizards’ defence had other ideas. Ramandeep Singh made a superb pass to Bob De Voogd with only few seconds left in the game. Lovell ensured that there were no last minute hitches as the fourth quarter ended with both teams tied at 1-1.
The penalty shootout saw plenty of twists and turns. Jeroen Hertzberger scored thrice for the Wizards, Sreejesh was swapped with George Bazeley, which backfired on the Wizards. Jackson and Barry Middleton scored three goals each in the shootout, but it was Daniel Beale who scored the winner to send Rays to the final. The action-filled shootout ended 9-8 in favour of the Rays.