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UP Wizards aim to break HIL semi-final jinx, face Kalinga

Chandigarh: Uttar Pradesh Wizards will aim to break their semi-final hoodoo, while Kalinga Lancers will eye a second consecutive final appearance when these two sides face off in a last-four match of the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) here on Saturday.

Roelant Oltmans-coached UP Wizards have lost three semi-finals in the first three editions and against last edition’s runners-up Kalinga, they will be desperate to seal a final spot for the first time. UP Wizards’ best performance so far has been a third-place finish in 2013.

“Our first aim was to make it to the semi-finals. Now that we have achieved it, we want to make this opportunity count and qualify for the final. We are probably the only team who has made it to the semi-finals maximum number of times but not made the final,” said UP Wizards skipper V.R. Raghunath.

In this edition, UP Wizards finished third in the league phase with 25 points. They thrashed Kalinga 10-0 and drew the other match 2-2 in the league phase. Oltmans’ tactics of holding the ball within the defensive structure and watching out for counter-attack opportunities have been successful.

Having experienced defenders like Wouter Jolie, Raghunath, Gonzalo Peillat and 2016 World Junior Player of the Year Arthur van Doren has ensured Wizards the safety at the back, while in front of the back four, Sander Baart has provided the stability.

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Attacking midfielders Eddie Ockenden, Florent van Aubel and Seve van Ass possess the speed and skills to turn the defence into attack in a blink of an eye and supply great passes to forwards Augustin Mazzilli, Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh. Oltmans will bank on Raghunath and Peillat to convert the penalty corners.

“The winning formula against Kalinga Lancers will be simple — stick to the strategies given to us by the coach and execute them through the game. League stage was a different ball game and our approach to the semi-finals will be different,” said Raghunath.

The Lucknow-based outfit trained one last time on Friday to fine tune their skills and work out specific plans for Mark Hager’s Kalinga squad which includes players like German stalwart Moritz Furste, Australian Glenn Turner and Dutchman Billy Bakker who bring great variety and quality up front.

Especially, shifting deep-lying playmaker Furste has added variety to Kalinga’s attack. The two-time Olympic champion with Germany is also a threat with penalty corners, having scored seven times with his drag-flicks this campaign.

Kalinga have not dealt well with the turnovers, and for that S.K. Uthappa, Dharamvir Singh and Aran Zalewski become incredibly important. They will be asked to provide cover for a band of young defenders Matthew Dawson, Pardeep Mor, Amit Rohidas and Gurjinder Singh and their Australian goalkeeper Andrew Charter.

The Bhubaneswar-based franchise lost last year’s final to Jaypee Punjab Warriors 1-6. And this year, Kalinga captain Furste is eying another shot at the championship match.

“That was a bitter loss because we had played very well through the season but lost out because of one bad day on the field. We didn’t play our natural game, but this year, we are stronger and have had a good week-long training session here in Chandigarh,” Fuerste said.

“The team is fresh and upbeat for the semi-final and we are looking forward to a good contest,” he added.

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