New Delhi: Debutants Ranchi Rays will face season's most consistent team Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the summit clash of the third Hero Hockey India League after both teams registered contrasting wins in their respective semifinals here on Saturday.
The Rays kept their nerves to get the better of Uttar Pradesh Wizards in a lengthy penalty shoot-out in the first semi-final today, while in-form Punjab Warriors beat defending champions and hosts Delhi Waveriders in the second last four game later in the evening.
While Ranchi Rays and Punjab Warriors will face off in the final tomorrow, the Waveriders and Wizards will fight it out for the third spot.
In the first semi-final earlier in the day, India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni co-owned Ranchi Rays eked out a thrilling 9-8 win over Wizards in the shoot out after both the teams were locked at 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
Dragflicker VR Raghunath (34th minute) gave Wizards the lead from a penalty corner before skipper Ashley Jackson (41st) levelled the scores for Ranchi by converting a penalty stroke.
After both the teams failed to find the winner in the remaining 19 minutes, the match went into the shoot-out.
The Rays were guilty of taking the match that far as they earned as many as seven penalty corners in the regulation 60 minutes but failed to convert a single one.
The Wizards, on the other hand, converted one of their two short corners through Raghunath?s fierce flick in the 34th minute.
After a barren first quarter, the Rays secured four penalty corners in quick succession but Wizards goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was right upto his task to deny the debutant outfit as both the teams failed to score at the halfway mark.
Four minutes after the change of ends, Wizards broke the deadlock when Raghunath scored with a powerful, high flick from his team?s first penalty corner.
But Wizards' lead was shortlived as Jackson drew parity seven minutes later from the spot.
The Wizards got another penalty corner soon but this time Ranchi custodian Lovell Tyler came up with a fine save.
With little over a minute from the final hooter, the Ranch Rays got a golden chance to score the winner when they secured three penalty corners in succession but failed to utilise the opportunities, taking the match into shoot-out.
In the other semifinal, Punjab Warriors produced a dominating performance to register their third win over Delhi Waveriders this season.\
The Warriors continued from where they left in the league stages and dished out a controlled and matured performance to rightfully secure their second consecutive final berth.
Last year, Warriors came second best against Waveriders in the final but this time around they would be gunning for glory, especially after their strong performance throughout the last one month.
From the onset, Warriors went on the offensive and in the process secured two penalty corners in no time, the second of which was converted by Sandeep Singh to hand his side the lead in the third minute.
After a goalless second quarter, Warriors doubled their lead in the 35th minute through Augustin Mazilli?s soft goal, courtesy a silly error from Delhi custodian Nicolas Jacobi.
Thereafter, Waveriders tried every trick in the book but goals eluded them.
The home team had their share of chances and earned four penalty corners in the match but those went in vain.
Warriors goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann shone brightly in front of the bar, making numerous saves to deny Waveriders and win the player of the match award.
Warriors too had four penalty corners out of which they converted one.