A consistent Ranchi Rhinos would look to continue their dominant run when they face an unpredictable Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the second semi-final of the inaugural Hero Hockey India League in Ranchi on Saturday.
The Birsa Munda stadium here has witnessed the best turnout of spectators throughout the tournament and the vociferous crowd support in the semifinal would only add to the confidence level of the hosts.
Apart from the two matches against Delhi Waveriders, which they lost, the hosts have been dominant in all their home games and have not conceded more than one goal per match against any other team.
"Home ground and home crowd are our advantages. Players get great energy from the crowd. It's a must win game, and it would be challenging," Rhinos' coach Gregg Clark said.
"We would look at all our players, would analyse our recent games and take points from it," he added.
The Rhinos midfield has a settled look from the start of the tournament and their ability to break down opposition's moves effectively has contributed to the team's defensive steel.
The goal scoring form of young Mandeep Singh (8) and the improvement in their penalty corner conversion ratio means the Wizards would have no respite at any end.
"We played a little easy in our last few games, to keep ourselves fresh. Most of the guys are 100% fit, and one can expect another game from us in our typical Rhinos style," skipper Moritz Fuerste said. While the Rhinos have little to worry about on the tactical and formation front, the hosts would be wondering which side of the unpredictable Wizards turns out on Saturday.
The Wizards have been one of the most inconsistent sides in the tournament and had struggled to make through to the last four stage.
But every time they had their backs to the wall, the team came up with a performance worthy of champions and their 4-1 victory over league leaders Delhi Waveriders in the last league encounter would have given them the confidence that they can go the distance in the inaugural edition.
"We had a wonderful last night. It was Delhi Waveriders' first defeat of the tournament, and obviously we are very positive now. We need to go into semi-final with a positive momentum," Wizards' skipper Raghunath said.
"But then, it's semi-final. Ranchi is a good side. Tomorrow, it would be a tough contest. And the team that plays better on the day would make it to the final," Raghunath added.
Whether they will achieve that feat would depend on how well they keep their focus and play as a unit.