With the knock-out stage starting from Thursday, the competition for the title promises to become more serious in the National women's hockey championship here.

Even overwhelming favourite Railways does not seem complacent despite having some of the best players in its ranks. Railways has the advantage of having almost the same set of players who play for the Indian team.

So, after the Asian Games, a five-day training camp in New Delhi was enough for the side to get into some kind of rhythm before the Nationals.

Two big wins against Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh must have boosted the Railways morale, but the team needs to lift its game against stronger sides in do-or-die encounters. That was the reason why Railways made some experiments in the match against Andhra.

Problem areas

Penalty corner conversion from direct shots was one of the problem areas for Railways in its first match.

It earned as many as 17 short corners, but managed to taste success only in six.

However, in the next outing, there was considerable improvement — five out off 11. Undoubtedly, it needs to get better.

Uttar Pradesh has also not played a tough match even though its margins of wins were not huge. It must have used the three-day break to chart out a plan for an improved showing against Railways in the quarterfinals.

The clash between Karnataka and Punjab is expected to be a close contest. Punjab has the advantage of playing three matches, which has provided it more practice. Still, it has to deal with Karnataka which has a nippy forward-line.

Battle of equals

The contest between neighbours Jharkhand and Orissa will be a battle of equals. Possessing players of similar calibre and style, both the teams are likely to make it the match of the quarterfinals. While Jharkhand showed some promise, Orissa was inconsistent in the league matches.

The Madhya Pradesh-Haryana engagement in the last-eight will also be an interesting affair considering that both are attacking sides.

Madhya Pradesh has to sharpen its finishing skills and curb its tendency to give away easy chances to the opposition. The close match against Chandigarh must have provided it the scope to introspect and rectify its mistakes.

Haryana, with several talented youngsters and the experienced duo of Mamta Kharab and Surinder Kaur, did not have adequate match practice since it qualified following its lone win over Assam.

The home team played a few matches against a local boys' outfit to keep itself in proper shape for the bigger tests before the home crowd.

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