Playing marvelous hockey in front of the cheering home fans, Ranchi Rays became the second team to advance to the semifinals of the Hero Hockey India League on Tuesday. It was a command performance from Ranchi men, who kept their nerves to edge out table toppers Jaypee Punjab Warriors in a thrilling encounter to register a 3-2 victory. Both sides played spirited hockey but Punjab conceded an early goal and found themselves chasing an equalizer until late in the match. Later, another goal by Ranchi quickened the pace of the game even more but the task for JPW became a little more difficult. Raising the level of their play, the accomplished visitors from Punjab drew level in the fourth quarter by coming up with two quick goals. But Ranchi Rays were not done yet. They made a storming come back in the closing stages that resulted in the third goal that decided the match. The winning efforts of Ranchi men took their points’ tally to 29 from 8 matches. With Jaypee Punjab Warriors also on 29 from the same number of matches, both teams have created semifinal berths for themselves and the remaining four teams have to fight for the last two places in the coming days.
The match no. 21 of the Hero Hockey India League brought the best two teams of the tournament facing one another at Ranchi on Tuesday. The first quarter in this cracker of a match began at a frantic pace and both sides made attacking raids on each other’s goals. It was simply a matter of which team could sieze an early opportunity. RR were the first to do so by earning a penalty corner in the 13th minute. Englishman Ashley Jackson stood at the D-top but his drag flick was saved by the Punjab goalkeeper. However, there was Parvinder Singh, who saw the clearance from the goalkeeper coming his way. He pounced on the chance to drive home and RR went 1-0 up. The pace of the game did not slacken but no further goals could be scored in the first quarter.
As the second quarter got underway, both teams played with a purpose. RR wanted to enhance their lead while JPW were intent on getting the equalizer at the earliest. But JPW’s fortified defense left little chance for Ranchi to score another goal despite several moves. Both teams played aggressively in this quarter and kept the pressure although RR had a better control of the proceedings. No goals could be scored and the quarter ended with 1-0 in favor of the home team.
The third quarter’s play acquired extra pace as JPW hunted for the elusive equalizer. The Punjab team mounted attack and severely challenged the RR defense. Finally JPW managed a penalty corner opportunity but the strike from the top of the D was saved by Bharat Chetri, who had replaced Jaap Stockman for this match. Meanwhile, Ranchi went into attack and extracted a penalty corner from JPW in the 45th minute. It was here that Ashley Jackson’s talent came to the fore as the Englishman played true to his reputation as he converted and took his team’s lead to 2-0.
The fourth quarter brought the keenest tussle of the match. With time running out, JPW went all out for two goals that would bring them back into the match. Playing mesmerizing hockey, JPW scored both goals in a space of 3 minutes. The first one came in the 47th minute, when Warriors’ Agustin Mazzilli moved with a striking speed and ended with a beautiful solo goal. Moments later, it was the turn of Satbir Singh, who took charge in the 49th minute and stopped only after cracking a stunning field goal. Suddenly, crowd in the entire stadium was on its feet after Ranchi lost the advantage. But the home team produced the winner within three minutes of losing the lead. In a monstrous move made in the 51st minute, RR’s Stanli Minz hammered home the crucial winner for his team. In the remaining 9 minutes, RR maintained the 3-2 lead and as the match ended, they wrote their name as one of the semifinalists of 2015 Hero Hockey India League.