Chandigarh: Maiden semi-finalists Dabang Mumbai will look to extend their dream campaign into the final of the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) when they face former champions Delhi Waveriders in a last four battle at the Chandigarh Hockey Stadium here on Saturday.
Dabang Mumbai had failed to reach the semi-finals in the last two years of existence and this year they have changed that by displaying top-class hockey which enabled them to finish first in the league phase. In fact in 2013 and 2014, the now-disbanded Mumbai Magicians franchise from the financial capital, had never made it to the semi-finals.
"As a franchise, this is the first time Dabang Mumbai is playing in a semi-final and the mood in the team is upbeat and everyone is excited to play," captain Florian Fuchs, a $96,000 German recruit, said, quite aware of the importance of the contest.
In front of Fuchs' team will be Delhi, one of the most successful sides of HIL, with experience of two finals and two bronze medal play-offs in their bag.
Even though Delhi got off to a slow start but the Cedric D'Souza-coached side made remarkable comeback in the league phase with some fine victories against defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors, Kalinga Lancers and Uttar Pradesh Wizards that ensured a spot in the knockout.
"Though Delhi Waveriders didn't get off to a great start nor did they lose games by big margins, they have managed to turn things around for themselves with some inspiring performances," Fuchs said of the national capital outfit.
But Fuchs knows that be come any challenge, his side is prepared and has shown their fighting ability by pulling off winners in the dying seconds of at least three matches.
"But having said that, our team is very confident especially after winning some good games where we have come back in the last 15 minutes to win," said Fuchs, giving a warning to Delhi.
Delhi Waveriders, on the other hand, would be hoping to keep up their winning ways despite a loss in their previous game to Ranchi Rays. They will be heavily banking on defenders Iain Lewers, Justin Reid-Ross and Rupinder Pal Singh, midfielders Austin Smith, Tristian White and Harjeet Singh to provide good ball supply to German Niklas Wellen, Mandeep Singh and Parvinder Singh in the forward line.
"I think we played well in the last 15 minutes against Ranchi Rays but we had conceded too many goals to make a comeback. We can't afford to make the kind of mistakes we did in the league stage. Dabang Mumbai have been very consistent this season and we need to make sure we don't miss out on the chances we create.
"The beauty of the tournament is such that you can't predict which team will pull off a win and I am sure it will be an exciting outing of hockey on Saturday," stated India's ace drag-flicker Rupinder, the skipper of Delhi.
Delhi face a good compact unit with bases covered in each department. The quartet of Fuchs, Affan Yousuf, Gurjant Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah have provided goals, while Robert Kemperman, Emmanuele Stockbroex and Manpreet have the flexibility and stability.
The defence, comprising Sander De Wijn, Jeremy Hayward, Harmanpreet Singh and Gurmail Singh have improved as the league progressed. World Goalkeeper of the Year 2015 and 2016 David Harte of Ireland has also been rock solid, giving the confidence and assurance the team to go out on attack.
Against a well-drilled unit like Mumbai, Delhi's tactic of waiting for the opponent's mistake will be tested to the hilt.