To say that the quality of the group matches in the Hockey India fourth junior National men’s championship was below par, would be stating the obvious. From the beginning, it was evident which teams would make it to the knockout (semifinals), and the top teams were hardly made to sweat.
In the semifinals to be held here on Saturday, between Punjab and Haryana and SAI and Odisha, there is no doubt that Punjab will be the overwhelming favourite to bag the title.
Even the rivals concede that Punjab will be the team to beat for it looks relatively well-balanced in defence, attack and in penalty corner conversions.
“Punjab is the best,” admitted SAI coach Y.S. Chauhan. N.K. Gautam, Haryana’s coach, felt Punjab is beatable as its defence has not been tested adequately. “We would like to exploit that,” he said.Room for improvement
Punjab’s coach Avtar Singh isn’t worried since he knows that his team is far better. Harjeet Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Parvinder Singh, Varun Kumar have all played in the Hockey India League, and it has shown in the way the team has competed thus far. Avtar, though, felt that his players had to improve on penalty corner conversions.
SAI, too, has impressed, posting huge victories over Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Against Bhopal in its last pool match, SAI looked ordinary. Playing what he calls total hockey, SAI coach Y.S. Chauhan, said he would definitely spring a surprise on Odisha.
“We have good players like captain Sandeep Kumar and drag-flicker Navdeep Singh,” he said.
Playing with four forwards, Orissa has shown the hunger to score goals, but coach Pradeep Kumar said he is not happy with his forwardline.
“The forwards have missed a lot of scoring chances. We would like to rectify that,” he said.
It is hoped that the semifinals would more than make up for the abysmal fare dished out in the pool matches.