Top teams can have tough time in national hockey quarters

June 15th, 2011 - 9:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhopal, June 15 (IANS) The national hockey championship has reached its league end and the knockout stage, starting Thursday, should produce tougher contests.

The league phase with 32 teams was largely lopsided with the big guns pummelling the weaker ones without breaking sweat.

The Air India-Karnataka quarterfinal clash is the one to watch out for. Both sides have a fair sprinkling of internationals or those who have been on the fringe. Then, there is that young Orissa team, comprising mostly tribal players, taking on the experienced Haryana, who boast of drag-flick expert Sandeep Singh and the country’s best defender Sardar Singh.

In the other two quarterfinal games, strong Punjab will play Bihar and Jharkhand run into Railways.

Both Jharkhand and Railways have more than a handful of Orissa players who have switched loyalties. Roshan Minz, Bikas Toppo, Dinesh Ekka are some of the Orissa players in the Jharkhand team.

“Since the National Games, many Orissa players are playing for Jharkhand. We asked them to play for us, but they refused,” Orissa coach K.C. Choudhury told IANS.

The exodus of seniors seems to have come as a blessing for Orissa as they now have a young squad and they have done well here.

They are still to concede a goal in the championship, having beaten Andaman and Nicobar (13-0), Jammu and Kashmir (4-0) and Madhya Pradesh Academy (3-0).

“It is an under-19 team playing here. We are a side packed with young players. They have shown speed and stamina that some of the experienced teams lack. And they work hard. We have covered all the areas well and have come so far, and I believe we can go further,” Choudhury said.

They are hoping to outrun Haryana, covering the entire field.

“We have to beat them in speed and our young boys can do that. Haryana have some experienced players, but our boys are excited to take them on,” says a confident Choudhury.

He is particularly impressed with drag-flicker Amit Rohit Das, who has scored four goals in the tournament so far.

“Watch out Das, he has been accurate with his conversions and he is also a good defender.”

The going has been tough for Air India. They fought off a strong resistance from Uttar Pradesh before managing to scrape through 3-2 to make it to the last eight.

Led by Olympian Sameer Dad, Air India have current Indian team captain Arjun Halappa, Gurbaj Singh, Shivendra Singh, Vikram Pillay and stalwart Dhanraj Pillay.

Karnataka coach B.J. Kariappa told IANS that his team was looking to drag-flicker Raghunath, who not long ago was part of the senior side, to produce results. Raghunath has converted seven penalty corners, the most in the tournament. Sandeep is next with six conversions.

With Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur, goalkeeper Bharat Chetri, Hari Prasad at their disposal, Karnataka have the team to go all the way.

“Our set pieces have been highly productive. The junior boys have given good support to seniors and we hope we can maintain and keep up with the good performance,” says Kariappa.

Chetri knows that it is a do or die battle.

“Whoever wins the match can go on to win the championship,” he said.

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