Bangalore, Sept 30: Punjab muscled past Railway Sports Control Board 5-1 here on Sunday to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with defending champions Haryana in Hockey India’s second senior men’s National hockey championship.
Haryana had earlier beaten a young Manipur 4-2 in the first quarter-final and later, hosts Karnataka had the measure of arch-rivals Tamil Nadu 2-0 to also enter the penultimate round of the championship.
Karnataka await the winners of the fourth quarter-final match between Air India and Jharkhand to be played later tonight.
Punjab, who led 3-1 at half-time after conceding an early goal, were stretched to the limit by Railways who however, did not defend as well as they attacked to allow their rivals to gain the upper hand.
Punjab’s penalty corner specialist Gurjinder Singh again led the scorers’ list with two conversions after Gurbaj Singh opened the account in the seventh minute, finding the boards from a goalmouth scramble.
Young Akashdeep Singh and Prabhdeep Singh scored the other Punjab goals while for Railways, B Horo struck in the fifth minute, but then failed to consolidate on the early advantage.
In fact, Punjab were rocked when Horo deflected an accurate centre from Vinod Kumar who gained possession following an abortive penalty corner.
However, Railways were unable to build on the early break as they committed far too many errors in their defence to allow Punjab to gain the upper hand.
Sure enough, the Punjab equalizer came not a moment soon when Gurbaj diverted the ball to the boards following a right-wing move that resulted in a hectic goalmouth scramble and then Gurjinder converted a 12th minute penalty corner that put Railways under pressure.
Punjab stepped up the pace and in the 31st minute, Akashdeep found the target with a reverse hit after being put through by Satbir Singh to give his side a 3-1 advatnage at half-time.
On change of ends, Punjab scored twice more with Gurjinder converting a penalty corner and Prabhdeep lending finishing touches to a flowing move.
Railways coach Balwinder Singh, a former India forward, said: “Obviously, a disappointing result, but we had as many scoring chances as Punjab. The difference was they converted and we didn’t. Overall, I am satisfied with my team’s performance.”
Punjab coach Baljit Singh Saini, also a former India player, said the early goal that Railways score was a wake-up call and that once Punjab found a way through the rival defence, the goals came.
“I am glad Railways scored early and it was a wake-up call for us. But as in our previous game against the Services (in pool match), we had to deal with a very defensive opponents. However, after we scored a couple of goals, it opened the floodgates,” Saini said.
Looking ahead to Monday’s semi-final clash with Haryana, Saini said: “It will be a tough match. We know their game too well and they also know us. So, form on the day will make the difference.”
The results (quarter-finals):
Punjab 5 (Gurjinder Singh 12th, 47th; Gurbaj Singh 7th; Akashdeep Singh 31st; Prabhdeep Singh 52nd) beat Railway Sports Control Board 1 (B Horo 5th).
Karnataka 2 (MK Mudappa 29th; PL Thimanna 32nd) beat Tamil Nadu 0 (Detailed Report Here).
Haryana 4 (Bharat Chhikara 3rd, 6th; Mandeep Antil 43rd; Didar Singh 44th) beat Manipur 2 (Jayantakumar Meitel 31st, 60th) (Detailed Report Here).
Hockey India Press Release