Uttar Pradesh Wizards left to rue missed semifinal spot
It’s a ‘first’ not many teams would like to embrace it in a big way but the fact remains that Sahara Pariwar-owned Uttar Pradesh Wizards will not be featuring in the knockout phase of the Hockey India League for the first time after their heart-breaking 3-6 defeat to Dabang Mumbai.
On the eve of the game, the Wizards were poised to make the semifinal cut against a Mumbai side, which had all but thrown in the towel as far reaching the last four stage is concerned.
The Wizards had things under control after a conceding an early goal and looked good to consolidate with the 3-2 half-time scoreline. But they did not bargain for the fact that Dabang Mumbai derived bouts of inspiration from somewhere and slammed home goals via Florian Fuchs and Affan Yousuf to force open their semifinal doors.
It may be worth recalling that Uttar Pradesh Wizards coached by Dutchman Roger van Gent, a new coach in charge given the fact that national team head coach Roelant Oltmans had been coaching them in the first three editions, dished out their best performance in the 2013 when they finished third pipping Jaypee Punjab Warriors 4-3 riding on a four-goal blitz by skipper Vokkaliga Raghunath.
The Wizards have always been a tough nut to crack in the knockout phase not that they are not otherwise. At the 2014 edition, they lost 2-3 to eventual defending champions Ranchi Rays in a shootout after being locked 1-1 in normal time. A similar tale unfolded at the 2015 edition, where the Wizards again went down to the Rays 7-8 in a shootout after being tied 1-1 in regulation time.
The performance of the Wizards left a lot to be desired. The team boasted of the costliest Indian player – Akashdeep Singh besides celebrated Aussie Jamie Dwyer among others like Ramandeep Singh and Tobias Hauke and to forget the champion Indian goalie PR Sreejesh.
Given this line-up, much was expected from the Wizards, but they cut a disappointing figure.
“The Wizards had their fair share of opportunities against Dabang Mumbai. It’s all about seizing your chances and when you don’t then you have to pay a price. Dabang Mumbai showed how resilient they are. From being virtually out of the semifinals they are now close to making it,” said a support staff of the Wizards, pleading anonymity.
The 2016 HIL campaign is probably one UP Wizards not like to remember for the right reasons.