Ranchi: Ranchi Rhinos defeated Delhi Waveriders 2-1 in a cracker of a game to win the first ever Hero Hockey India League at Birsa Munda Astroturf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi on Sunday.
After Simon Child put the Waveriders ahead, Austin Smith drew the hosts level through a drag flick, before Manpreet Singh’s winner in the final quarter sealed the title for the hosts, who were supported by a packed capacity crowd.
Rhinos won the battle of the best two teams in the league, which was followed by wild celebrations.
The game was played at a good pace at the start, but none of the team was able to maintain possession for long periods. It was more of an end to end stuff, with neither of the goalie really being threatened in the first quarter.
Rhinos skipper Mauritz Fuertse and star forward Mandeep Singh made some good moves, but were not able to create a clear goal-scoring opportunity. At the other end, Sardar Singh and Oskar Deecke tried to be creative, but the Rhinos defence could handle it comfortably.
Both teams were careful with their defending, and adopted a defensive approach. The complexion of the game changed mid-way into the second quarter, with Simon Child scoring the opening goal of the match for Waveriders. Matt Gohdes did the hard work in the right flank before Child collected the loose ball, and hit a cricket like straight drive past the Rhinos goalkeeper Cortes to open Waveriders’ account. The pace and quality of the game went up after the first goal.
Rhinos were much more aggressive after conceding the opening goal, and earned a penalty corner seven minutes later. Fuertse struck a powerful low hit to Waveriders’ goalie Nicolas Jacobi right, which the latter cleared with his right leg.
The third quarter also saw Rhinos trying to apply pressure, with not much success. At the other end, Waveriders earned a hat-trick of penalty corners. Rupinder Pal Singh’s first drag flick was saved by Cortes, but the rebound was too high, resulting in another PC. Second one hit the rusher’s leg, while third was again well saved by Cortes.
Three minutes later, Rhinos earned their second penalty corner of the evening. Ashley Jackson’s drag flick was deflected wide by a Waveriders’ defender, and once again Jacobi was not even tested.
Towards the end of the third quarter, Justin Reid-Ross had a half chance, but he ended up mis-hitting a bouncing ball inside the Waveriders’ D, as the ball went high and to the right of the goal-post. Rhinos’ best chance of the third quarter came in the last minute, when Furtse sent a hard hit into the Waveriders’ D. Mandeep Singh, standing to the right of the goal-post tried to deflect the ball into the goal, with only Jacobi to beat, but ended up guiding the ball wide.
Rhinos eventually drew level early in the final quarter. Mandeep was brought down inside the Waveriders’ D, resulting into a penalty corner for the hosts. Rhinos tried a variation, where Ashley Jackson played a dummy, before Austin Smith slotted home the drag flick, giving Jacobi no chance.
With a little over seven minutes to go for the normal time to end, Ashley Jackson made a superb run into the Waveriders’ circle, before passing the ball to Manpreet Singh. Manpreet took the ball close to the goalpost, before putting it to a defender’s foot, earning the home side yet another penalty corner. And although the drag flick was well saved, the rebound went to Manpreet, who smacked the ball past Jacobi, who dived a little too early, to put Rhinos 2-1 ahead.
Ranchi Rhinos skipper Moritz Furste came at the post-match press conference with full of joy and shouting – “Hum Jeet Gayein. Nas Nas Mein Hockey Hai” and praised all the players, “We played extremely well today and this was our best game. We defended and contested well today. Goalkeeper Francisco Cortes performed brilliantly today and his saves gave us the victory. We played much better than our previous matches against Delhi Waveriders.”
Coach Gregg Clark said that after Hero HIL Auction, he didn’t expect this result. “When I saw the Team List after the Hero HIL Auction, I was not very hopeful. But the franchise and Indian officials gave me the confidence about the team. After reaching Ranchi and seeing these players, I really got the confidence and see, today we are the Champions,” Clark stated.
Young Mandeep Singh, who was adjudged for the ‘Ponty Chadha Trophy’ for Upcoming Player of the Tournament, said he never thought he will play in the Final. “I never thought in the beginning of the Hero HIL that we will play in the Final and win the match. I am very happy today and thankful to Ranchi crowd for being very supportive to us,” he added.
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