Having failed to qualify even for the semifinals in the last two seasons, Kalinga Lancers stunned defending champions Ranchi Rays to enter their maiden final of the Hockey India League, where they will face Punjab Warriors on Sunday. In a pulsating last-four encounter, Kalinga defeated Ranchi via penalty shoot-outs after both teams were tied 2-2 at the end of four quarters. Playing in front of their home crowd, Ranchi began on a positive note, dictating terms from the start. But Kalinga, led by inspiration captain Moritz Fuerste, gained in confidence as the match progressed and started to play more freely in the second quarter.
They took the lead in the 22nd minute after Gurjinder Singh scored from a trademark drag-flick. Kalinga’s defence then held on pretty well, giving Ranchi little space and time inside the ‘D’. After wasting several opportunities in the remainder of the match, both teams came to life in the final four minutes.
Trent Mitton restored parity for Ranchi in the 57th minute via penalty corner but that lasted for a few seconds only as Fuerste put Kalinga ahead again in the 58th minute. But Ranchi were determined not to go down without a fight and Timothy Deavin scored from a corner in the final minute to force a tie-breaker.
The shootout started on a low key note for the Ranchi Rays as their captain Ashley Jackson missed the first one. Lancers captain Moritz Fuerste scored.
Ranchi Rays managed to score their next two penalty shots but Lancers goalkeeper Abhinav Kumar Pandey ensured that Ranchi Rays do not score their fourth shot which was taken by Barry Middleton. Aran Zalewski converted his penalty shot to win the match for Kalinga Lancers by 4-2 in the shoot–out. Kalinga will now face Punjab, who qualified for their third final following a facile 3-1 win over Delhi Waveriders. Both teams looked for counter attacking opportunities and the first major chance came Delhi’s way in the 6th minute through a penalty corner, which was converted effectively by Rupinder Pal Singh to give the team an early lead. This was Rupinder’s 12th goal of the tournament.
Delhi maintained their 1-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the second quarter expectedly saw Punjab Warriors pressing hard to establish equilibrium. Punjab efforts paid dividends in the 19th minute when young striker Armaan Qureshi netted the ball through a reverse flick shot that beat Devon Manchester. This field goal helped Punjab take a 2-1 lead.
They got another opportunity to extend the lead in the 27th minute but failed to convert the penalty corner chance. The Punjab side kept the pressure on with SV Sunil making two good circle penetrations, though those could not be converted into a goal. The first half ended with the Warriors leading 2-1.
Punjab continued to dominate in the third quarter and although Delhi came close to scoring in the 39th minute through Justin Reid Ross, the deflected shot went past the goal post. Punjab kept up the pressure for most of the fourth quarter also with a strong ball possession. Their tactics came handy as a high ball from across the field was stopped by Matt Gohdes and deflected onto the foot of Delhi defender that give Punjab a penalty corner.
The opportunity was well converted by Simon Orchard in the 51st minute and that gave Punjab a two-goal cushion.
Delhi tried their best to make a come back in the dying minutes of the match but a strong defence and good goalkeeping from Tristan Clemons kept them at bay.
(With PTI inputs)