Kalinga Lancers, Dabang Mumbai in final of HIL

Chandigarh, Feb 25 (IANS) Kalinga Lancers and Dabang Mumbai gave themselves the opportunity to win the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) the first time as they overcame Uttar Pradesh Wizards 4-3 (via penalty shoot-out) and Delhi Waveriders (2-0) respectively in the semi-finals here on Saturday.

While goalkeeper Andrew Charter played a pivotal role in guiding Kalinga to their second consecutive final as they prevailed over UP Wizards 4-3 (4-4) via penalty shoot-out, Robert Kemperman’s field goal gave maiden semi-finalists Mumbai a 2-0 win over former champions Delhi Waveriders.

For UP Wizards, it was their fourth semi-final loss as they wasted a brilliant opportunity at the Chandigarh Hockey Stadium here on Saturday.

The match went to the penalty shoot-out after Akashdeep Singh’s 58th goal enabled UP Wizards to equalise after last edition’s runners-up Kalinga, with goals from Devinder Walmiki (ninth), Moritz Furste (35th) and Billy Bakker (46th), mounted a strong comeback following Florent van Aubel’s fourth minute strike.

Australian Charter not only came off with heroics during the regulation play, but also in the penalty shoot-out as Kalinga saw their first two hits of Furste and Adam Dixon wasted thanks to P.R. Sreejesh and UP Wizards going 2-0 up with conversions from Gonzalo Peillat (penalty stroke) and van Aubel.

Lalit Upadhyay and Aran Zalewski brought Kalinga back in contention in the shoot-out, while Charter denied Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep. Next, Dharamvir Singh fumbled and as did Sander Baart as the game moved to the sudden death.

Charter then again rescued Kalinga by dismissing Augustin Mazzilli. But then Furste failed again and van Aubel continued to be impressive to make it 3-2. Upadhyay levelled it 4-3 and Charter ensured that the goal post looked big for Akashdeep, who was denied by the cross-bar. And Zalewski scored past an imposing Sreejesh to trigger wild celebrations in the Kalinga camp, ending UP Wizards’ campaign in the semi-finals for the fourth time in five years.

Charter was tested from the very beginning of the match. UP Wizards got a penalty corner dismissed in the third minute but they managed to draw the first blood a minute later when a 30-yard long ball from Belgian defender Arthur van Doren was deflected in by compatriot van Aubel.

Kalinga didn’t take much time to respond and pulled one back when Devinder deflected home a slap shot from Matthew Dawson following a mistrap of a penalty corner execution.

Kalinga’s tactic of going out all attack meant that UP Wizards always found the space to attack and the Lucknow outfit closed the space further with a heavy midfield which gave them the better share of the ball possession.

As the heavy midfield of UP Wizards was proving too heavy for Kalinga, Kalinga dropped attacking playmaker Billy Bakker further behind to help out the defence after the half-time.

Kalinga pulled level 2-2 in the 35th minute when drag-flicker Furste fired a grounder to the left post to mark his 10th goal of the campaign.

Kalinga made it 4-2 one minute into the fourth and final quarter as a cross from left by Gurjinder Singh was not cleared to safety by goalkeeper Sreejesh and Dutchman Bakker grabbed the ball and made a body turn before hitting it to the roof.

The goal turned the heat on UP Wizards and Kalinga kept coming at them in their boost to seal the game.

When another semi-final exit, their fourth, seemed inevitable, UP Wizards found the equaliser two minutes and six seconds to go. Baart’s drive from the edge of the circle on the right was dealt with a poor clearance and Mazzilli snatched it before passing into an unmarked Akashdeep, who scored an open goal to take the game to the shoot-out where Kalinga prevailed.

In the other semi-final, Kemperman’s 26th-minute back-hand strike proved to be the difference between maiden semi-finalists Mumbai and Delhi.

Delhi’s Iain Lewers missed a penalty stroke incurred from field play at the Chandigarh Hockey Stadium.

Both sides’ custodians, David Harte of Mumbai and Vincent Vanasch of New Zealand also put up good show but in the end, the Irishman emerged the winner.

Mumbai’s high pressing helped them open up the game as Delhi played with a strong build-up play from the back. Mumbai broke the deadlock when a penalty corner was turned into a field goal opportunity and Dutch midfielder Kemperman came up with a brilliant back-hander to the right low corner to stun Delhi defence in the 26th minute.

Delhi responded very quickly by earning a penalty stroke in the following minute when Mandeep Singh was tripped inside the ‘D’. But Lewers was denied by Harte, the 2015 and 2016 World Goalkeeper of the Year.

Delhi came close to equalise twice but Harte kept them at bay. The capital outfit earned two penalty corners but beating Harte proved to be difficult.

At the other end, Harmanpreet had three chances with penalty corners but he dragged them wide as Vanasch kept Delhi in the hunt.

Mumbai’s Johan Bjorkman and Affan Yousuf were denied twice by the side bars but they didn’t ultimately need another goal as Delhi failed to find the equaliser.