Resurgent Karnataka eye a spot in the final

Hockey World Series: Lions lock horns with Sher-e-Punjab in semis

After being written off by many following a dismal start to their campaign, a resurgent Karnataka Lions will be thinking that climbing all the way to the summit in the inaugural World Series Hockey isn’t a distant possibility now.

Stuck at the base camp halfway through the campaign, the Lions have scripted a remarkable turnaround to race clear of the pack and put themselves within two steps from glory.

Standing first in their way will be title favourites Sher-E-Punjab, who they locks horns with in the first semifinal at the Karnataka State Hockey Association stadium here on Saturday night.

Although not loaded with huge talents, the Lions still had a decent outfit at their disposal to mount a challenge for the title. However, their performance for better part of the tournament was nothing but ordinary.

With just two wins from seven matches, the Lions, who were languishing at the bottom of the league table then, seemed destined for an early exit. But, as good teams always do, they didn’t lose hope, discovering their range in the nick of time to post five wins, including four on the trot, in a stunning second-half show to book their semis spot with a match to spare.

“I always believe there is a thin line between winning and losing,” said Lions coach Jude Felix after an exhausting training session in searing afternoon heat here on Friday. “People who have played the game will vouch for it. Although we started off poorly, I never lost faith in my side.

“Looking back, we didn’t deserve to lose some games. However, sport can be cruel at times, and results can be deceiving. Halfway through the season and with our backs to the wall, we knew we had to win the remaining games to give ourselves a chance. Knockouts are anybody’s game and we hope to put it past Punjab,” added Felix.

Oozing with confidence, the Lions have some injury concerns though, thanks to the punishing schedule. Key drag-flicker Len Aiyappa is suffering from a toe injury while winger Ravipal Singh has a hamstring strain and was just a spectator in the training session.

Punjab, who trained under floodlights, have little problems. With former India internationals Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh, VS Vinaya and William Xalco in their ranks, they have been steady throughout the event, powering themselves to the knockout stage rather comfortably.
Although they lost the final group game against Delhi Wizards in a high-scoring game, they have the ammunition to dent Lions’ sudden rise.

Comets hold edge

Chandigarh Comets hold a slight edge over Pune Strykers when the two teams clash in the second semifinal at the MHA-Mahindra Stadium in Mumbai.

The Comets finished on top of the table with 28 points and have also won both their round-robin ties against their semifinal rivals.

The Comets have relied a lot on penalty corner expert Gurjinder Singh, who is the second highest goal-getter with 13 strikes, and Canadian import Sukhwinder ‘Gabbar’ Singh (10).
Former Pakistan captain Rehan Butt and star India international Bharat Chikara have combined well with Sukhwinder for the Comets.

The Strykers’ defenders would have a tough time in handling the trio and also in foiling penalty corner expert Gurjinder who has a golden chance to overtake the eliminated Chennai Cheetahs’ Pakistan import Imran Warsi (16 goals) as the highest scorer of the tournament.

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