Ranchi, Feb 9: Ranchi Rhinos made sure that they play in the first ever Hero Hockey India League (HIL) final in front of a home crowd, as they beat Uttar Pradesh Wizards 4-2 in the semi-final at Birsa Munda Astroturf Hockey Stadium here Saturday.
A brace each from Mandeep Singh and Nick Wilson was good enough to see the hosts through. For wizards, Nithin Thimmiah scored both the goals.
Knowing Wizards’ strengths, Rhinos went into the attack early in the game. And a mess up between a defender and goalkeeper Bazeley cost the visitors the opening goal. A long aerial ball from midfield landed close to the Wizards’ goalpost, and a defender and Bazeley charged to clear it. But both ended up missing it. Mandeep Singh had an open goal to push the ball in, which he did to put Rhinos 1-0 ahead.
Wizards responded with a couple of superb attacks but could not find the back of the net. Rhinos had an opportunity to increase their lead in the eighth minute, as Mauritz Fuertse earned them a penalty corner.
Fuertse himself took the drag flick, which was well saved by Bazeley. David Alegre then made a couple of threatening moves but the Rhinos’ defence handled the situation well on both the occasions. Wizards did manage to find the equaliser before the first quarter ended though.
Teun de Nooijer showed some superb skills before setting up Nithin Thimmaiah, who smashed a reverse hit to the top right of the Rhinos’ goal. Rhinos earned another penalty corner in the last minute of the quarter, but were unable to trouble Bazeley.
The hosts earned another penalty corner inside the first five minute of the second quarter. But Ashley Jackson’s high drag was comfortably handled by Bazeley. Bazeley was once again brilliant with his anticipation three minutes later, with drag flick being low to his right this time.
Rhinos finally restored their lead in the 30th minute, when Nick Wilson made a wonderful move inside the Wizards circle to find the back of the net. Wizards players argued that the ball had hit Wilson’s body, and opted for video referral. However, after watching the replays, the on field umpire’s decision was upheld. Wizards could have equalised in the last minute of the half, but Cortes made a good save from a Raghunath drag flick.
Third quarter saw a number of excellent moves from both sides, and from Rhinos in particular, but there was no change to the scoreboard. The best move of the third quarter came from Kothajit Singh and Mandeep Singh, with the latter’s push striking the goalpost and going wide.
It took just a little over a minute into the fourth quarter for Wizards to find their second equaliser of the evening. Bazeley did well to save a deflected goal-bound ball, but the rebound went to Nithin Thimmiah, who made no mistake to beat the Rhinos’ goalie and score his and his team’s second goal.
Defenders of both the teams were under control for the next few minutes, before Nick Wilson scored an absolute stunner for Rhinos. Collecting the ball well out of the Wizards’ circle, Wilson beat three-four defenders, and struck a powerful hit low to Bazeley’s left, and the ball passed the Wizards’ goalie before he could get down.
And with just five minutes to go, Mandeep Singh scored a goal that was even better than Wilson’s. Collecting an aerial ball, he got close to the Wizards’ goal, beat one defender, and lobbed the ball over a charging Bazeley, even as he fell down to the ground.