UP squeezes into quarterfinals

Air India's Anjela (right) dribbles past Uttar Pradesh defender Franciska in the Senior women's National hockey championship in Lucknow on Tuesday. — Photo: V. Sudershan

Air India's Anjela (right) dribbles past Uttar Pradesh defender Franciska in the Senior women's National hockey championship in Lucknow on Tuesday. — Photo: V. Sudershan  

LUCKNOW AUG. 26. In a cliff-hanger, Uttar Pradesh struggled to a 1-1 draw against Air India, but still qualified for the quarterfinals by virtue of its better goal average, in the 52nd women's National hockey championship at the Dhyanchand Stadium here on Tuesday.

Severe hot conditions played a major role in the way the match took its course. The eighth seeded Air India seemed stronger on paper, but melted in the steamy weather.

Uttar Pradesh was in no better condition either. With Air India's entire front-line players dropping their shoulders in the second half, the UP girls should have at least won by three goals.

A 22-0 win against Rajasthan in its opening league match came worthy. Air India had defeated the same opposition 20-0. An 8-1 win against Himachal had given Uttar Pradesh a plus-29 goal-average, while Air India started Tuesday's match at plus-26. Finally, the goal-average played the crucial role in deciding the eighth quarterfinalist.

Right-half Devender Kaur received a roaring applause in the 27th minute when she found the goal, on the second rebound off the fourth penalty corner Uttar Pradesh had earned. Though, that equaliser was enough to carry Uttar Pradesh into the quarters, it would be extremely difficult to get past third seed and National Games champion, Haryana.

Nevertheless, Uttar Pradesh should be content with top eight finish, which guarantees automatic qualification to the next National Games and other tournaments.

Air India should blame itself for losing out on the chance to qualify into the next stage. While other teams sweated out in hostel accommodation at either the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College or Ambedkar Stadium complex, Air India stayed in a star hotel.

Sourly, the quality of umpiring was debatable. Both the umpires, Radha Sukumaran and Vimal Kujur, made errors allowing the defending side to re-group. Thrice, Uttar Pradesh goal-keeper, Suchita, took time out to tighten her pads, but was not cautioned.

Air India was lucky to find the opening through Smiely when she connected Anjela's grounder in the 21st minute. Given the way Uttar Pradesh messed up its chances and three penalty corners, Air India should have held on to its thin lead.

With the sparse crowd rooting for Uttar Pradesh, it somehow found the equaliser. But on changing the ends, Air India clearly seemed out of sorts.

Earlier in the morning, Indian Universities team scored its third straight win to announce its readiness for the harder battles. The university side thrashed Vidarbha 11-0 thanks to centre-half Sandeep Kaur's five goals, including an hat-trick. It meets Karnataka in the third quarterfinal on Wednesday.

In another pool `E' match, though inconsequential, last year's semifinalist Mumbai salvaged some pride by beating Tamil Nadu 5-0. Former champion Mumbai had been a regular feature of the semifinal line-up for long, but the 0-1 loss to the university side in its opening match blotted its record.

* The results (league): Pool B: Uttar Pradesh 1 (Devender Kaur) drew with Air India 1 (Smiely H).

Pool E: Mumbai 5 (Poonam 2, Elina, Susani, Fatima Kujur) bt Tamil Nadu 0; Indian Universities 11 (Sandeep Kaur 5, Rajneesh, Veenita, Poonam, Sadhana Singh, Kanu Priya, Joytri) bt Vidarbha 0.

Quarterfinal line-up: Railways v Orissa; Haryana v Uttar Pradesh; Indian Universities v Karnataka; Punjab v Delhi.

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