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Mouthwatering semis clashes in PHL IV

Displaying admirable skill and teamwork, the team which lost their first three matches came back strongly to win the next three group outings.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2008 13:05 IST


After booking the last available semifinal berth in style, Orissa Steelers will take on Bangalore Hi-Fliers, while table toppers Chandigarh Dynamos will lock horns with Hyderabad Sultans in the semifinals of the Premier Hockey League IV here on Saturday.

Defending champions Orissa Steelers impressed one and all with their performance as they snatched a semifinal berth on their own terms.

Displaying admirable skill and teamwork, the team which lost their first three matches came back strongly to win the next three group outings.

Before their final group match against last year's runners-up Sher-e-Jalandhar yesterday, Premier Hockey League IV , the captain as well as the backbone of Steelers' defence, wanted a victory by at least a two-goal margin in order to avoid a last-four date with home challengers Dynamos.

And the team did exactly that as they won 2-0 to not only tie with the Sultans on 11 points but also to topple them from the third spot on a better goal difference.

Tirkey, who missed the first two matches, has been the pillar of strength for the Orissa team since last year and his aim to avoid the Dynamos in the semis clash was because of two reasons.

Just one step ahead of the finals, he did not want his rivals to play with the advantage of home fans' support and did not prefer his defenders to get exposed to a threat called drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, who seems to be getting back his deadly touch.

Tirkey said against the Hi-Fliers, his team had to rely on its strong defence and counter-attacks.

"Bangalore Hi-Fliers are a top side. Last time we met, in the first group outing, we had lost to them. They are tough as opponents and their strength is the short corner conversion. We have to thwart that by man-to-man marking."

"And we will bank on our strategy of counter-attacks in which our forward-line -- consisting of players like Pakistan's Shakeel Abassi, Roshan Minz and Damandeep Singh -- is good enough," he said.

The Hi-Fliers, champions in PHL II, have an able penalty corner specialist in Len Aiyappa and a stout strike-force in veteran Arjun Halappa, captain Tushar Khandekar, Sandeep Michael, Hari Prasad and Sandeep Michael and it is a matter of luck that with four wins and two losses they are not perched at the top of the table despite having tied with Dynamos on 14 points.

The other semifinal is likely to be no less entertaining as the home side has plenty of proven strikers apart from sharp shooter Sandeep Singh.

Asia Cup's highest scorer Prabhjot Singh, his erstwhile India partner Deepak Thakur, captain Rajpal Singh, Pakistani import Ghazanfar Ali make their front row an enviable and awesome combination.

Rajpal said the Dynamos will bank on their strength Sandeep Singh as well as the front liners.

"Our penalty corner conversions have won matches for us till now. That will be our strength. Out forward line will play a crucial role."

Hyderabad Sultans, the underdogs led by young midfielder Sardara Singh, have to play out of their skin to tame the Dynamos in their own den and proceed to the title clash.

With three wins and two defeats, the Hyderabad team is packed with talented rookies who fought hard to make the cut for the last-four stage against all odds.

Their defence, led by Didar Singh, has two new exciting prospects in Anand Tirkey and Samir Baxla, while up and coming drag-flicker Diwakar Ram is ready to throw a tough challenge to the Chandigarh full-backs.

Besides, foreign recruits Adnan Maqsood from across the border and Dutch goalkeeper Oscar ter Weeme will be added strengths for the team in their quest to regain the title after three years.