Hockey Punjab are red-favorites to win the 11th Hockey India Senior Men National Championship that is being played at the Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium in Pimpri, Pune. The Balwinder Singh-coached Punjab outfit, who have Olympian fullback Rupinder Pal Singh in their ranks have looked impressive in the tournament – they had clobbered Hockey Uttarakhand 11-0 before going on to thrash Hockey Andhra Pradesh 7-1. Hockey Punjab secured a 5-0 win over Hockey Andaman and Nicobar after the latter forfeited the match.
With as many as ten players featuring in their first senior nationals means the Punjab outfit have loads of young legs who have indeed raised the bar in the tournament. Rupinder Pal Singh has led admirably not only manning the defence but also motivating his young team-mates. He showed his utility to the Punjab side scoring two crucial goals in a hard-fought 2-1 quarterfinal win over Hockey Chandigarh. The likes of Lovepreet Jainth, Ranjot Singh, Sudarshan Singh, Parampreet Singh and Sankalp Singh have made meaningful contributions to the team’s winning run so far.
Hockey Punjab’s semifinal clash against hosts Hockey Maharastra could turn out to be a mouth-watering clash – the in-form Punjab players up against Hockey Maharashtra and former international goalkeeper Akash Chikte will be a treat for hockey lovers. Hockey Maharastra captain Taleb Shah, who caught the attention of everyone with his eight-goal blitz in their 18-0 win over Hockey Mizoram in the league stage, will again look to shoulder much of the responsibility of putting his team into the final in front of their home crowd. Coach Edgar Joseph Mascarenhas must be chuffed with the way he has received admirable support from the likes of Pratap Kishanrao Shinde, Venkatesh Kenche, and Mohd Mizamuddin.
Much like Punjab and Maharashtra, Hockey Karnataka did not have to sweat much in the league phase as they posted wins in ridiculously one-sided matches against Hockey Jammu & Kashmir, Le Puducherry Hockey, and Hockey Arunachal. The fighting attributes of the Karnataka side coached by Pradeep Kumar R P, came to the fore when they rebounded from a goal down to outduel Hockey Bengal 3-2 riding on a goal scored in the closing stages of the match. But it will not easy for Karnataka as they run into Hockey Uttar Pradesh in the semifinals.
One thing is for sure – a high dose of quality domestic hockey awaits us at the business end of the tournament.