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Delhi enthrone Hockey India League champions after win in penalty shootout

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Delhi Waveriders exorcised the ghosts of last year’s near miss, as they came through 3-1 in a penalty shootout to beat Jaypee Punjab Warriors for the Hero Hockey India League title here on Sunday.

After being pipped in the final by Ranchi Rhinos last season, the owners brought in former India coach Cedric D’Souza at the helm and the decision paved dividends. The celebrations after Steven Edwards converted the last effort had to be seen to be believed. Brand ambassador John Abraham ran on to the pitch and jumped into the players’ huddle.

On the sidelines, D’Souza and team mentor Ajitpal Singh gave each other a warm hug.

It was goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi who was once again the star for the Waveriders as he had a big role in the Warriors missing three of their four tries in the penalty shootout. The German even forced the legendary Jamie Dwyer into an error.

On the other hand, the Waveriders converted three of their four attempts. It was almost thrill-a-minute hockey and the crown had to be decided from the 25-yard line after the match was tied 3-3 after 70 breathless minutes.

It was a fitting climax to the month-long tournament as the two best teams made it to the title clash. The two sides had won once each during the league phase, and their third encounter was the one to decide the champions.

The Punjab Warriors were on the front foot from the opening whistle and put the rival defence under immense pressure. They could not have asked for a better start when Dwyer fed the lively Affan Yousuf inside the striking circle. The pass was relayed to Mark Knowles and the veteran Aussie made no mistake in slamming past Jacobi in the second minute.

The Warriors were all over the Waveriders and it was the German goalkeeper who kept the team representing the Capital in the final for long periods. Jacobi first saved Simon Orchard’s shot and then did the same for an effort on goal by S.V. Sunil. The Waveriders were relying on counter-attacks but Gurbaj Singh’s cross could not be deflected in by Lloyd Norris-Jones inside the circle.

Delhi earned a penalty corner but Rupinder Pal Singh’s effort was deflected out by Lucas Rey on the line.
The Waveriders were level in the 33rd minute when a fast break saw Akashdeep Singh find Norris Jones inside the circle, and a hard reverse hit beat player of the tournament Jaap Stockmann in the Punjab goal.

The match turned on its head at the stroke of half time when Delhi got their second penalty corner. Rupinder’s shot was blocked by the rusher, but skipper Sardar Singh swept home the rebound for a rare, but crucial, goal. The action refused to subside in the third quarter with as many as three goals. First of all, Gurmail Singh’s hit inside the circle was expertly deflected in through his legs by veteran forward Shivendra Singh to level matters in the 45th minute.

A few minutes later, the Warriors were ahead once again when Yousuf was at the right place at the right time to turn home a centre from the right flank. But just when it seemed that all the momentum was with Punjab, a defensive mistake allowed the Waveriders to come back.

Gurinder Singh gave the ball away inside the Punjab half, and Matt Gohdes found Yuvraj Walmiki inside the circle, who made it 3-3 in the 52nd minute.

The Warriors exerted a lot of pressure in the final quarter and even earned a penalty corner, but tournament top-scorer Sandeep Singh’s drag flick was palmed away by Jacobi.

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