Star-studded Railways, boasting of the strongest line-up in Indian women’s hockey and made up almost entirely of national team players, is the favourite to retain the title in the National women’s hockey championship here.
After nine days of incessant matches and several one-sided contests, the competition has finally entered the knockout stage and Railways will be the first team to get into action when it takes on host Uttar Pradesh in the first quarterfinal on Sunday.
The match is scheduled for 6.30 a.m. and Railways will get to play at what is likely to be the coolest time of the day in this city, where the soaring temperature means even a match at 8 a.m. has players sweating.
With the likes of Jasjeet Kaur, Asunta Lakra and Joydeep Kaur among the senior players in the side and youngsters — Binita Xess, Apoorva Vishwakarma, Rosalin Dung Dung and Rosalind Ralte — making merry in goal-scoring, Railways will be the team to watch out for, yet again.
Even though 28 teams participated in the tournament here, the last eight remaining in the fray are on expected lines. Besides Railways, the other podium finishers from last year — runner-up Haryana and third-placed Jharkhand — are in the quarterfinals, pitted against relative lightweights Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Karnataka respectively.
The fourth quarterfinal will see Punjab take on Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy in what is likely to be the only close contest at this stage.
MPHA has come up as an important feeder line for the national team in recent times and several players in the Indian side, especially at the junior level, belong to the academy.
However, while Haryana is expected to sail into the semifinals, Jharkhand will do well to be wary of Karnataka.
Karnataka does not boast of any big names but most of its players belong to either the SAI centre in Bangalore or the State hockey academy and are talented.