Delhi Waveriders will lock horns with Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the summit clash of the second edition of Hero Hockey India League after registering hard-fought victories in their respective semi-finals.
The Waveriders rode on Yuvraj Walmiki's lone goal to beat Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the first semi-final on Saturday, before dragflicker Sandeep Singh struck twice to hand Warriors a 3-2 win in the high-voltage next last-four match to dash the hopes of defending champions Ranchi Rhinos in front of a packed stadium.
If the first semi-final was a quiet affair, the second semifinal between the Rhinos and the Warriors produced fast and exciting hockey, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. It was Sandeep (24th minute, 52nd minute) who converted a couple of short corners while Jake Whetton (55th) scored a classy field goal with a powerful strike from top right of the D to register the come-from-behind win and shatter the home team's hopes.
The two goals consolidated Sandeep's lead at the top of the goalscorers' chart with a tally of 11 goals. For the Rhinos, Ashley Jackson converted a penalty corner in the 19th minute while the other goal was scored by Floris Evers (58th).
Such was the intensity of the match, that Rhinos' Manpreet Singh and Warriors Gurmail Singh literally came to blows in the final quarter.
The Warriors also need to thank their goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann for the win as he made a brilliant save in the final minute of the match to keep his side's lead intact. Just seconds before the final hooter the Rhinos earned their third penalty corner and Jackson stood up to take the shot.
But Warriors goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann was alert to the occasion and made a brilliant diving save to his right to deny Jackson.
Earlier, Walmiki scored the all-important winner to guide Delhi Waveriders to the summit clash. Walmiki scored a field goal in the 15th minute in front a packed 6000 capacity stadium to dash UP Wizards title hopes.
It was keenly-contested fight between last year's runners-up Waveriders and the Wizards. While the Waveriders had the better share of ball possession in the first half, the UP side dominated the proceedings in the second half.
The only difference between the two sides in the evenly-matched affair was that Waveriders made use of an early chance, whereas the Wizards were guilt of wasting uncountable goal-scoring opportunities that came their way. Wizards skipper VR Raghunath had a bad day in office as he failed to convert any of the three penalty corners his side earned in the match.
The Waveriders got the first real scoring opportunity in the 12th minute but wasted it as Rupinderpal Singh failed to capitalize on his side's first penalty corner. The Delhi outfit, however, took the lead soon through a field strike from Yuvraj Walimiki. An opportunist Yuvraj found himself at the right place at the right time to deflect in from close range Justin Reid-Ross' pass.
The Wizards got a chance to drew level in the second quarter when they earned their first penalty corner but skipper Raghunath's flick went wide after getting a deflection from the sticks of an onrushing Rupinder as the Wizards went into the breather with a slender one goal lead. The Wizards needed a goal in the second half to keep their hopes alive and expectedly went for the offensive from the start.
The efforts resulted in two penalty corners in the third quarter but as has been the story for the Wizards in the match, Raghunath wasted both the opportunities. The Wizards kept up the pressure on the Waveriders in search of the equalizer with some bright moves in the final quarter but they failed to convert them into goals. The Waveriders, on the other hand, created a few chances on the counter-attack but their forwardline lacked in finishing