Suddenly the competition has become intense and it is likely to become more fascinating in the closing stages of the National women's hockey championship at the Motilal Nehru School of Sports hockey complex here.

The National championship is being held after a gap of three years and there is hardly any noteworthy domestic tournament where the players can test their skills. However, several teams have put up decent shows so far and Punjab is one of them.

“It is difficult to improve the standards without any match practice. Yet, our girls have played together for some time and it is good that they have reached this far,” says Punjab coach Harjeet Kaur, a former international, on her team making the semifinals.

In the semifinal on Saturday, Punjab will challenge Railways and Harjeet believes that her girls will give a fight to their stronger rivals. “They have an experienced side filled with international players. We have to tighten our defence and mark each one of them. Our girls have to run up and down very quickly to contain Railways,” says Harjeet.

In the quarterfinals, Uttar Pradesh had shown the way as to how one should control the fast moving Railways frontline. Punjab, fielding some Railway Coach Factory (RCF) girls, may gain from that.

Punjab will also benefit from its experience of playing against a tough opponent (Karnataka) in the last eight.

Weakness

The other semifinal is between Haryana and Orissa. The host's fragility under pressure was exposed against Madhya Pradesh in the quarterfinals.

Knowing that Orissa is a young side, Haryana is all set to unsettle it with some early onslaught. “We have to attack them and bring the game under control as early as possible. Otherwise, it would be difficult to handle them,” said Haryana coach Pritam Siwach.

The host, nevertheless, has to guard against taking Orissa lightly after its spirited performance against a more experienced Jharkhand. Besides, the fitness of two of its seasoned players, Mamta Kharab and Surinder Kaur, will be a matter of concern for Haryana.

For Orissa, the major worry will be the absence of its njured right-wing striker Surabhi.

More In: Hockey | Sport