'At home' for big match

The Saturday semi-final against Uttar Pradesh (UP) Wizards promises to be the biggest match yet for the Ranchi Rhinos this Hockey India League season, but skipper Moritz F�rste was unfazed as he took a spin around the capital on a bike and an auto.

While the rest of the Rhinos headed straight to Radisson Blu from Birsa Munda Airport on Friday afternoon, Rhinos captain F�rste, an Olympic gold medallist, chose Albert Ekka Chowk. "I'm feeling at home," said the German ace, who, with his team, flew in from Mumbai.

With the first edition of Hockey India League nearing to an end with two back-to-back semi-finals on Saturday and the tie for third spot and grand finale on Sunday, Ranchi fans will have a blockbuster weekend. On Saturday, the first semi-final between Ranchi Rhinos and UP Wizards will be played from 5pm onwards. The second between top-seed Delhi Waveriders and fourth-seed Jaypee Punjab Warriors will start from 8pm.

A day before Rhinos take on UP Wizards, F�rste said auto and bike rides were his way of "de-stressing".

Which brings us to the S-word in the semi-finals. Unlike league ties, there is no second chance in the knock-out that Rhinos will play on Saturday.

"You are either in or out," the captain himself quipped on Friday.

The home crowd ' 5,000-plus at the Morabadi astroturf stadium and over 30,000 at the adjoining Birsa Munda football stadium where a couple of giant screens will be put up ' will be rooting for the Rhinos.

Plus, second-seed Rhinos have the mental edge of having won seven, drawn three and lost two matches of the 12 it played so far. In contrast, UP Wizards won and lost five matches each and drawn two.

The Wizards have also always lost to Rhinos.

The twist is that on Thursday, Wizards thrashed top-seed invincible Delhi, 4-1.

Rhinos lost to Delhi twice and drew once.

But Rhinos coach Greg Clark was generous in praising the Wizards. "Oh, the last match was terrific. Delhi lost for the first time," he smiled.

But he added: "More than us, Wizards will be under pressure tomorrow as they defeated the number one team. We will continue to play our natural game. But you may see more refined aggression on the field."

Due to flight delays, UP and Delhi teams could not reach Ranchi till late evening.

The Telegraph caught up with fourth-seed Punjab around noon. Punjab have won four of 12 matches it has played and lost to Delhi on all three occasions. "But we will put up a good fight," promised captain Jamie Dwyer.

Asked for a strategy sneak-peek for Saturday's big game, Punjab coach Barry Dancer added they last played on February 5.

"We got time to rest and practise. That is our edge. Delhi played yesterday and travelled today for tomorrow's match," the coach said, banking on the top-seed being tired.

As teams 2 and 3 as well as 1 and 4 fight out the semis, only one thing is for sure. There's nothing predictable about hockey.

Are you hoping for a final match between Ranchi-Delhi ?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com

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