Rhinos nail Waveriders to emerge champions

Raghunath dazzles as Wizards finish third

Ranchi Rhinos came from a goal down to beat Delhi Waveriders 2-1 and win the inaugural Hockey India League in a thrilling summit clash in front of a capacity home crowd at the Astroturf Hockey Stadium here on Sunday.

Rhinos were trailing for most part of the match after Simon Child gave Delhi the lead in the 25th minute. But the Ranchi outfit never gave up and displayed tremendous fighting spirit to score through Austin Smith (55th) before Manpreet Singh (63rd) struck a late winner.

Raghu shines

Earlier in the day, Uttar Pradesh Wizards rode on captain VR Raghunath’s four goals to finish third, defeating Jaypee Punjab Warriors 4-3 in extra-time in the third-place play-off. Wizards were trailing 0-3 till the 42nd minute.

The title clash, a match between the two best sides of the tournament, proved to be a fast and free-flowing game.

Rhinos seemed to enjoy playing in front of a vociferous home crowd as they overshadowed Waveriders, at least, in the first quarter.

Both the teams adopted an attacking approach in the initial part, but it was Rhinos who dominated the early exchanges. Waveriders, however, picked up their game in the second quarter and scored against the run of play in the 25th minute through Child to silence the crowd.

An opportunistic Child slammed the ball into the right corner of the Ranchi post after picking up a loose ball inside the ‘D’. Rhinos got an opportunity to restore parity in the 32nd minute when they earned their first penalty corner, but skipper Moritz Fuerste’s low flick was saved by an alert Nicolas Jacobi under the Delhi goal.

Leading by a goal, Waveriders started the second half on a positive note and soon managed to earn three penalty corners in succession but Rupinder Pal Singh wasted all the three with Ranchi goalkeeper Fransico Cortes coming to his side’s rescue on two occasions.

Rhinos were unlucky not to have levelled the scoreline just before the end of the third quarter. Their star forward and tournament’s highest scorer Mandeep Singh missed a sitter from close range after he was set up by Fuerste.

Rhinos made continuous inroads into the rival citadel in search of the equaliser and their consistent pressure finally paid off in the 55th minute when Smith brought the hosts on level terms.

Smith beautifully executed a variation with a grounded flick from Ranchi’s third penalty corner after earning the set piece following a successful referral appeal. After drawing level, Rhinos went for the killer blow  which rocked the Delhi defence. Waveriders’ backline started to buckle under Rhinos’ consistent pressure and in the process made a mistake which cost them the title.

Rhinos earned another penalty corner in the 63rd minute and Manpreet scored from a rebound after Ashley Jackson’s initial flick was saved.

Rhinos also bagged the Fair Play Trophy. Mandeep also won the promising player of the tournament award. Waveriders skipper Sardar Singh was adjudged player of the tournament.

Besides the trophy, Rhinos pocketed Rs 2.5 crore, while Waveriders took home Rs 1.25 crore. Wizards were richer by Rs 75 lakh.

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