New Delhi: Ranchi Rays hammered Delhi Waveriders 6-2 but couldnt stop the capital outfit from entering the semi-finals of the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) on better goal difference at the Shivaji Stadium here on Tuesday.
Ranchi needed to win by a goal difference of more than eight to book place in the semi-finals ahead of Delhi. The visitors, who had 18 points coming into the match as against Delhi's 23, found their goals from Manpreet Singh (ninth and 32nd minutes) and Imran Khan (37th). Delhi's lone goal was scored by Justin Reid-Ross (45th).
With the win, Ranchi (-1 goal difference) finished their league campaign level with Delhi on 23 points but the latter has a better goal difference that enabled them to reach the knockouts in Chandigarh later in the week.
The win, however, leaves a slender hope for Ranchi as Uttar Pradesh Wizards, who have 23 points from nine games and a goal difference of nine, face table-toppers Dabang Mumbai in Lucknow on Wednesday.
A heavy loss could change the table even though it looks very unlikely. Dabang Mumbai (33 points from nine games) and Kalinga Lancers (28 points from 10 games) had already entered the semi-finals.
Ranchi can take heart from the fact that they finished above the defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the league phase. Punjab are already out of the race for the semi-finals with 22 points.
And on the final day, it needed a top effort from Ranchi to even come close to evading Delhi. They got off to an electrifying start. Right-back Gurbaj Singh provided plenty of pace as he joined in the attack with veteran Englishman Barry Middleton and German Christopher Ruhr.
They made their intentions clear by earning a penalty corner but allowing it to become a field goal opportunity in the eighth minute. Ruhr fired at the right post from the edge of the ‘D', and the ball was deflected in by Manpreet to make it 2-0.
The goal boosted the spirit of the visitors and they enjoyed a very good first quarter. Gurbaj-Middleton combined thought to have scored two goals four minutes later but Delhi reviewed and the officials ruled that the ball didn't touch the stick of the Englishman before entering in.
Rays exploited the momentum further and earned two more penalty corners in the third quarter and applied the same tactics of making them field goal opportunities. But the ploy this time didn't work.
In the turnover, Delhi created two half-hearted chances but couldn't find the equaliser.
Ranchi, continued to pile the pressure on Delhi in the third quarter. Manpreet made the most of a defensive lapse to sound the board in the 32nd minute.
And five minutes later, it was 6-0 as Imran finished a clinical cross from right by Ruhr with a back-hander as Ranchi marched ahead in their bid to win by a goal difference of more than eight.
Delhi were desperate to get on the scoresheet by then and Talwinder Singh hit the right post to extend the agony in the 42nd minute.
However, the relief came for Delhi three minutes later when South African Reid-Ross put a faint touch to Rupinder Pal Singh's long ball which went up the air after a touch.
After the goal, Harendra Singh-coached Ranchi threw everything at Delhi. Ranchi replaced their goalkeeper with an outfield player but Delhi managed to keep the goal difference to four and reach the semi-finals.