Strykers will meet Sher-e-Punjab, who steamrolled Karnataka Lions 4-1 earlier in the first semifinal.
Pune Strykers struck thrice in the last 10 minutes to cancel out the 1-4 deficit, the 4th equalizer coming after the hooter through a penalty corner by Simranjeet Singh, and then in the penalty shootout goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Guri blocked Ramandeep Singh, Sukhwinder Singh and then Rehan Butt to script a dream victory for the Strykers.
In the fast-pitched duel, Mario Almada drew the entire defence on the wrong foot in the very first minute but hit wide. Surviving the early scare, Comets enthralled the huge crowd with quick counters and forced a penalty corner. Gurjinder Singh celebrated his 18th birthday in style with this corner, striking the first goal of the second semifinal which helped him cross Imran Warsi’s tally of 18 goals to become the WSH’s top scorer.
Two minutes later, Pune Strykers drilled their reply. Roshan Minz surged ahead from the left and effected a feeble parallel pass that rolled past couple of defenders, who were loathe to clear, leaving lurking Ken Pereira to gently guide the ball into the empty goal mouth from close range.
Comets lost no time to force the lead again, virtually in seconds. Canadian import Sukhwinder split the entire defence from the left and sent an acute pass. The ball seemed to have beaten goalkeeper on speed, yet colt Ramandeep Singh doubly ensured its safety with a neat diving touch.
The second quarter was sedate compared to the first. Moves came thick and fast, but goal chances were few and far between. Comets forwards came with guns blazing shortly into the second half. A two–minute blitzkrieg from the Comets changed the course of the match and it seemed to take the match further away from the Strykers.
Sher Singh’s forehand hit the right post and spun back to play for Ajitesh Rai to enhance the lead. Even as the celebrations were midway, Sher Singh reached the right baseline and took an acute shot at goal. Gurpreet Singh took it on the body, but the ball rose menacingly high, which Rehan Butt managed to deflect into the right corner for the fourth goal. Thereafter, the Comets lowered their guard, and paid for that tactical negligence.
Still, it needed a Himalayan effort for the Strykers to come back. Roshan Minz, in particular, proved to be a thorn in the flesh for the Comets, forcing his way into the circle quite often, conquering his space at will. The aggressive Strykers got two penalty corners in trot of which Tyron Perreira trapped a rebound on the top of circle to bang middle of the net to narrow the score to 2-4.
Bikash Toppo, who missed what seemed a sitter from close range, made amends two minutes earlier with a forehand from the top of circle that swept into the top of net in a split second.
With just a goal in deficit, and 10 minutes remaining, both teams dished out great hockey. Two minutes from the hooter, moments after Rehan Butt missed out his solo, Strykers forced three penalty corners, the last one coming at the stroke of hooter. Simrandeep Singh Randhawa’s grounder dealt the death blow to take the match into the tie-break, which brought the heartbreak for Comets.
The new penalty shoot-out rule: In a penalty shoot-out, the ball is placed on the 23-m line, with an attacker next to it and the goalkeeper on goal on the back line. When the whistle is blown, the attacker has 8 seconds in which to try and score a goal. The rule was introduced by FIH in hockey in 2011, and many say that it was taken from ice hockey.
Schedule for Finals (April 2): Sher-E-Punjab vs Pune Strykers at MHA Mahindra Stadium, 9pm. Live on Neo Cricket & Neo Sports.