- Pune Strykers will meet Sher-E-Punjab in the finals of the Bridgestone WSH, to be played at MHA Mahindra Stadium, Mumbai, on April 2
- Pune Strykers beat Chandigarh Comets 3-2 in penalty shoot-outs after regulation time score of 4-4
- Mario Almada, Bikash Toppo, Nikkin Thimmaiah scored in the penalty shoot-outs for Strykers; Roshan Minz fails with his attempt
- Gurjinder Singh and Bharat Chhikara score for Comets while Ramandeep Singh, Sukhwinder ‘Gabbar’ Singh and Rehan Butt miss their chances
This was arguably the greatest comeback in the inaugural Bridgestone World Series Hockey, and all the more remarkable because nobody, including Pune Strykers coach Gurdeep Singh saw it really coming. Thankfully, nobody told Comets coach Harendra Singh about it.
In an enthralling see-saw battle, Strykers trailed 4-1 for the majority of the regulation time and then 0-2 in the penalty-shootout but kept their nerves in check to make a dramatic comeback in the second semifinal of the Bridgestone WSH here on Sunday, winning 3-2 in penalty shoot-outs after finishing 4-4 after 70 minutes of regulation time. Stryjers will now meet Sher-e-Punjab, who steamrolled Karnataka Lions 4-1 earlier in the first semis.
Strykers struck thrice in the last 10 minutes to cancel out the 1-4 deficit, the 4th equalizer coming after the hooter through a penalty corner by their young talent, Simranjeet Singh Randhawa. In the penalty shoot-outs, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Guri was the hero, stopping Ramandeep Singh, Sukhwinder Singh and then Rehan Butt to script a dream victory for the Strykers.
In the fast-pitched duel, Mario Almada drew the entire defence on the wrong foot in the very first minute but hit wide. Surviving the early scare, Comets mesmerised the huge crowd with a quick counters and forced a penalty corner. Gurjinder Singh celebrated his 18th birth day in style with this corner, striking the first goal of the second semifinal which helped him overtake Imran Warsi’s tally of 18 goals to emerge the highest scorer in the league.
Two minutes later, the Strykers essayed their response. Roshan Minz surged ahead from the left and effected a feeble parallel pass that rolled past couple of defenders, who were loathe to clear, leaving the dangerously lurking Ken Pereira to gently guide the ball into the empty goal mouth from a close range.
Comets lost no time to force the lead again, virtually in seconds. Canadian import Sukhwinder ‘Gabbar’ Singh split the entire defence from the left, to relay an acute pass from the left. The ball seemed to have beaten goalkeeper on speed, yet colt Ramandeep Singh ensured its safety with a neat dive and a gentle deflection.
The second quarter was sedate compared to the first. Moves came thick and fast, but goal chances were few and far between. Comets forwards came with their guns blazing shortly into the second half. A two–minute blitzkrieg from the Chandigarh team changed the course of the match and it seemed to take the semis further away from the Strykers.
Sher Singh’s forehand hit the right post and spun back to play for Ajitesh Roy to enhance the lead. Even as the celebrations were midway, Sher Singh reached the right baseline and took an acute shot at goal. Gurpreet Singh took it on the body, but the ball rose menacingly high, which Rehan Butt managed to deflect the ball into the right corner of the fourth goal. Thereafter, the Comets lowered their guard, and paid for that tactical negligence.
Still, it needed a Himalayan effort for the Strykers to come back. Roshan Minz in particular proved to be a thorn in the flesh for the Comets, forcing his way into the circle quite often, conquering his space at will. The aggressive Strykers bagged two penalty corners in trot of which Tyron Perreira trapped a rebound on the top of circle to bang middle of the net to narrow the score to 2-4.
Bikash Toppo who missed what seemed a sitter from close range, made amends two minutes earlier with a forehand from the top of circle that swept into the top of net in a split second.
With just a goal in deficit, and 10 minutes remaining, both teams dished out great hockey. Two minutes from the hooter, moments after Rehan Butt missed out his solo, Strykers forced three penalty corners, the last one coming at the stroke of hooter. Simrandeep Singh Randhawa’s grounder dealt the death blow to take the match into the tie-break, which brought the heartbreaks for the Comets.
The New Penalty Shoot-out Rule: In a penalty shoot-out, the ball is placed on the 23-m line, with an attacker next to it and the goalkeeper on goal on the back line. When the whistle is blown the attacker has 8 seconds in which to try and score a goal. The rule was introduced by FIH in hockey in 2011, and many say that it was taken from ice hockey.
Goal Scorers for Chandigarh Comets:
Gurjinder Singh 4′ (PC)
Ramandeep Singh 9′ (FG)
Ajitesh Roy 39′ (FG)
Rehan Butt 41′ (FG)
Goal Scorers for Pune Strykers:
Mario Nicolas Almada 8′ (FG)
Tyron Pereira 46′ (PC)
Bikash Topo 59′ (FG)
Simrandeep Randhawa 70′ (PC)
Mario Nicolas Almada
Credits: World Series Hockey