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Rhinos reign supreme

- Ranchi beat Delhi Waveriders 2-1 to win inaugural HIL

Ranchi: Ranchi Rhinos triumphed in the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL) as they came from a goal down to beat Delhi Waveriders 2-1 in the final at the Astroturf Hockey Stadium, here, on Sunday.

The Rhinos were trailing for most part of the match after Simon Child gave Delhi the lead in the 25th minute.

But Ranchi never gave up and displayed tremendous fighting spirit. Austin Smith equalised for the outfit in the 55th minute before Manpreet Singh scored the winner in the 63rd minute.

Earlier in the day, Uttar Pradesh Wizards rode on captain V R Raghunath’s four goals, including a hat-trick, to finish third, defeating Punjab Warriors 4-3 in the bronze medal play-off match.

Besides the trophy, champions Ranchi Rhinos pocketed Rs 2.5 crore, while runners-up Delhi Waveriders took home Rs 1.25 crore. Third-placed Uttar Pradesh Wizards got richer by 75 lakh.

As expected, the title clash, a match between the two best sides of the tournament, displayed scintillating hockey by both Delhi and Ranchi, which was fast and free-flowing.

The Rhinos seemed to enjoy playing in front of a vociferous home crowd as they overshadowed the Waveriders, at least, in the first quarter.

The match started on an aggressive note with both the teams adopting an attacking approach, but it was the Rhinos who dominated the early exchanges with more penetrations inside the rival circle.

The Waveriders, however, picked up their game in the second quarter and scored against the run of play in the 25th minute through Simon Child to silence the capacity crowd.

An opportunistic Child slammed the ball into the right corner of the Ranchi post after picking up a loose ball inside the D.

The Rhinos got an opportunity to draw parity in the 32nd minute when they earned their first penalty corner, but skipper Moritz Fuerste’s low flick was saved by an alert Delhi goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi.

Leading by a goal, the Waveriders started the second half on a positive note and soon managed to earn three penalty corners in succession but Rupinder Pal Singh wasted all the three with Ranchi goalkeeper Fransico Cortes coming to his side’s rescue on two occasions.

The Rhinos were unlucky not to have levelled the scoreline just before the end of the third quarter. Their star forward and tournament’s highest scorer Mandeep Singh missed a sitter from close range after he was set up by Fuerste. The Rhinos made continuous inroads into the rival citadel in search of the equaliser and their consistent pressure finally paid dividends in the 55th minute when Smith brought the hosts on level terms.

Smith beautifully executed a variation with a grounded flick from the Ranchi’s third penalty corner after earning the set piece following a successful referral appeal. After managing to equalise, the Rhinos went for the killer blow, which rocked the Delhi defence.

After holding firm for most part of the game, the Waveriders’ backline started to buckle under Ranchi’s relentless pressure and made a mistake, which proved costly.

Ranchi earned another penalty corner in the 63rd minute and Manpreet scored from a rebound after Ashley Jackson’s initial flick was saved. With time running out, Delhi pressed hard for an all-important equaliser but the Rhinos’ defence was up to the task.

It was a double celebration for the Rhinos as they not only won the inaugural HIL title but also bagged the Fair Play Trophy. Ranchi’s young forward Mandeep Singh also won the most promising player of the tournament.

Despite the defeat there was something to cheer about for the Waveriders as their captain Sardar Singh was adjudged player of the tournament.

In the third place play-off tie, Raghunath single-handedly spoiled Punjab's party with sheer individual brilliance as he converted four penalty corners to ensure the win for the Wizards' after they were down 0-3 till the 39th minute.

The Warriors, however, were the better side on display, at least in the opening half, as they controlled the proceedings from the onset.

Mark Knowles (4th minute), S V Sunil (8th) and Ranjit Singh (39th) scored for the Warriors to hand them a commanding lead in the game.

But riding skipper Raghunath's (42nd, 62nd, 64th, 85th) precise penalty corner conversions, the Wizards made a strong comeback in the second half to not only level the scoreline but finish on the podium.