Penalties aren’t usually seen as a desirable way of determing the winner of a big match. Luck seems to play too much of a role. Yet, it was quite appropriate that the winner of the 2014 edition of the Hockey India League was determined by shootouts. In an exhilarating match, where momentum swung one way and then another, it was a golden goal (and not shootouts) that would have been the unfair way to separate Delhi Waveriders and Punjab Warriors, locked 3-3 after regular time at Ranchi’s Astroturf Hockey Stadium.
The fact that the penalties were taken from the 25-yard line (colloquially known as the ‘running penalty’, where the striker has eight seconds to score) made the skill of both the striker and the ‘keeper decisive. That, and the fact that the two sides had the world’s two best goalkeepers — Dutchman Jaap Stockman for the Warriors and Germany’s Nicolas Jacobi for Waveriders — made the contest doubly just.
It was Jacobi who clinched the issue, by denying three attempts out of four as compared to a solitary save by Stockman. Jacobi stayed on his feet despite all of Simon Orchards’ attempt to make him commit to a dive, then kicked Jamie Dwyer’s attempt wide. The German would then stretch his massive 6’4” frame to sweep the ball to safety before Satbir Singh could even get a shot away.
Stockman wasn’t as succesfull. Matt Gohdes, Simon Child and Stephen Edwards all managed to dodge, weave and then shoot past him. Edwards’ attempt, a casual jink to the right followed by a simple pat in, was enough for a 3-1 win for the Waveriders. A year after they finished runners up in the inaugural edition of the HIL on the same ground, they had finished champions.
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The match, however, could not have begun in a worse fashion. With seven Australian players and an Australian coach in Barry Dancer, Warriors were always going to play in a certain style. Waveriders’ strategy, on the other hand, has typically been to defend well and attack on the counter. But the Delhi side hadn’t even got their backline organised when Warriors went one up. Just 73 seconds into the game, Mark Knowles had scored thanks to an accurate pass from Affan Yousuf. He had been unmarked in the circle and even Jacobi could do nothing about his shot from point blank range.
For a long enough period, it seemed the Warriors had their foot on Waveriders’ throat as attack followed attack. Waveriders earned a penalty corner to break the momentum, but Lucas Rey, who had conceded the strike, made amends with a goalline save off Rupinder Pal’s strike. But even as Warriors seemed to have the upper hand, momentum swung the other way with a couple of goals in as many minutes.
Waveriders drew level in the 33rd minute. Akashdeep Singh began the move with a steal from half line, then ran nearly the length of the enemy half and finished with a pass to Lloyd Norris-Jones. The South African, himself on full tilt, crashed home a reverse flick into the tiniest bit of the goal that Stockman had left unguarded. At the stroke of halftime, Delhi had another. It came through a PC, but while Rupinderpal’s hit was off, Sardar Singh found himself in place for the rebound. Now, even though the angle was a tight one, he sent the ball to the roof of the net.
Warriors would have to claw their way back to the lead, again. In the 44th minute, Gurmail Singh crossed hard from the right side of the 25-yard line and Shivendra Singh got the perfect deflection. When the situation repeated itself three minutes later, Delhi had midfielder Gurbaj Singh and defender Rupinder Pal to blame for leaving the two opposition players unmarked. Yousuf, in the centre of the D, punched home after a cross from Keiran Govers.
Four minutes later, Waveriders would draw level for the second time in the game. This time it was the Warriors defender Knowles who left a player unmarked. And Yuvraj Walmiki, after a accurate cross from the right flank, could take his time before smashing home the equaliser. Warriors had another chance to go in front but Sandeep Singh, who has 10 PC goals in the tournament, shot wide in the 52nd minute. The last few minutes of regulation time saw Warriors all over the Waveriders half. Attacks came from both flanks but Jacobi would deny them.
He ensured the match stayed locked until penalties. Once there, he would seal the game and the silverware.
Ranchi Rhinos finish third
The HIL final wasn’t the only game of the day to be decided by the shootout. Penalties were also needed in the third place match between defending champions Ranchi Rhinos and Uttar Pradesh Wizards. The Rhinos clinched the shootout 3-2 after the two teams were locked at 1-1 at regulation time. VR Raghunath scored off a PC strike in the 15th minute, while Manpreet Singh equalised in the 30th minute for Rhinos.