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Ranchi Rays face UP Wizards in first HIL semis

Can the Rays down the Wizards? New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS): Uttar Pradesh Wizards will take on Ranchi Rays in the first semifinal of the Hero Hockey ...

Can the Rays down the Wizards?

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS): Uttar Pradesh Wizards will take on Ranchi Rays in the first semifinal of the Hero Hockey India League (HIL) at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here Saturday.

The league till now has seen both the teams playing with complete fervour as both of them have the knack to turn the tables in their favour at any point in the match.

During the two pool stage matches, Wizards and Rays have clashed twice in the league games with the debutants Rays emerging victorious on both occasions. That will give the Ashley Jackson-led side immense confidence.

However, Wizards have also been impressive in the league so far and they will look to reach the final for the first time. Before the knock-outs, Rays finished second with 35 points, while Wizards finished third with 32 points.

Roelant Oltmans-coached Wizards have a formidable line-up of players who have the competence to defeat any team on any given day. With Indian star P.R Sreejesh under the bar, defender duo of Wouter Jolie and V.R Raghunath will have the responsibilities of converting the crucial penalty corners.

Wizards' core strength is their Dutch quintet -- striker Jeroen Hertzberger, midfielders Bob De Voogd and Sander Baart, defenders Jolie and Marcel Balkestein.

Wizards also have the strong support of Ramandeep Singh who has made a brilliant comeback this season and is lending a very significant helping hand to Dutch star Hertzberger in further strengthening the forward line.

With De Voogd and Pradeep Mor taking care of the midfield, Wizards will step out to play with utmost coordination and clarity to ensure a way in into the finals of the League. Seasoned Australian striker Eddie Ockenden, experienced Spaniard David Alegre and young Nikkin Thimmiah.

"It's a big game tomorrow. We need to perform to our highest level that we have ever performed in the tournament. It's a clash for the run to the final. We have to perform in the best possible way so that we have a chance to play the final of Hockey India League, this season," Oltmans said.

Rays also have dished out good performance in the league matches. they showed strong character as they came back from a 3-6 loss in the opener to Kalinga Lancers.

Striking a dramatic hat-trick in the last pool game, captain Jackson is shining brightly with 11 goals to his name so far and is perfectly held up by the veteran English midfielder Barry Middleton and Indian defender Birendra Lakra.

Middleton, with more than 300 caps for England, is the most experienced player in the league. The 31-year-old has ensured that the team doesn't miss talismanic German midfielder Moritz Furste, who missed the tournament due to national commitments.

With Tyler Lovell guarding the nets, Lakra and South African Justin Reid-Ross will take care of penalty corners along with Jackson.

Australian quartet of seasoned defender Fergus Kavanagh, youngsters Trent Mitton, Daniel Beale and Nick Budgeon have played crucial roles.

Rays, co-owned by Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, will also depend on New Zealander Nick Wilson up front.

"We have entered the knock-out stage and faltering is no option for us. The boys will have to ensure that they attack and do not allow them to put pressure on us," Rays coach Harendra Singh said.

"I am confident of a positive result. We will look at continuing our form tomorrow. Penalty corners will be the key tomorrow and the boys are ready for it."

The match kicks off at 1630 hours local time.

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