New Delhi: The Hockey India League (HIL) had its first champion on Sunday in a fitting finale in which Ranchi Rhinos beat hot favourites Delhi Waveriders 2-1 in a match that went down the wire.
Delhi stayed in the lead until the last quarter through a 25th-minute strike by New Zealander Simon Child. However, the Ranchi defence stood firm after that denying Delhi a cushion of another goal.
Ranchi's persisting attack finally paid off in the 55th minute when Austin Smith scored off a variation Ranchi played on their third penalty corner. They picked up the pace thereafter rattling the Delhi defence again and again. Manpreet Singh got the winning goal for the hosts - once again off a penalty corner. Ashley Jackson tried a direct flick, which got deflected but fell in front of Manpreet, who put the ricochet past Nicolas Jacobi into the Delhi goal in the 63rd minute.
The match got off with possession play with none of the teams testing the opponent's goal in the first quarter. But Ranchi looked menacing whenever they managed to break away with a counter attack; however, the final touch continued to desert them. It was Delhi, though, who opened scoring with Child getting at the end of a loose ball at the top of the circle and banged it in.
Rhinos became more aggressive after letting Delhi go ahead. They came close to scoring with Moritz Fuerste but his fierce strike off a penalty corner was saved by Delhi goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi. Delhi earned three back-to-back penalty corners in the third quarter but couldn't get the cushion of a goal they were searching.
The hosts came close to equalising in the last action of the third quarter when Mandeep Singh got his stick to a long ball inside the Delhi circle but the deflection only brushed past the sideboard.
The final 17-1/2 minutes saw Ranchi score the equaliser that eluded them in the first three quarters. Mandeep was brought down in the striking circle, which gave Ranchi another penalty corner. They played a variation and it paid off with Smith beating Jacobi.
Just over seven minutes from finish, Delhi once again conceded a penalty corner that gave Ranchi the winner. Manpreet made no mistake to sound the board once the flick was deflected and came straight onto his stick.
In an early match for the third place, Uttar Pradesh skipper VR Raghunath single-handedly helped his team beat Punjab Warriors 4-3 after being 3-0 down at one stage. Raghunath scored off four successive penalty corners to earn his team a bronze medal.
Fair-Play Award: Ranchi Rhinos
Hero Player of the Tournament (Rs. 25,00,000): Sardar Singh
Ponty Chadha Trophy for the Upcoming Player of the Tournament (Rs. 20,00,000): Mandeep Singh
Airtel Award for Most Goals in the Tournament (Rs. 10,00,000): Delhi Waveriders