AI, Army march into semis

Score big wins over Navy, Air Force in Maharaja Ranjit Singh hockey.

Air India and Army XI booked their places in the semifinals of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh hockey tournament with comfortable wins in their pool matches on Wednesday.

In the first match of the day at Shivaji stadium, the class and experience in the Air India ranks completely overwhelmed a callow Indian Navy side. Coached by the legendary Dhanraj Pillay, and with former India players sprinkled all over their lineup, Air India's command over the ball was nearly unceasing in a 3-1 win, their second of the tournament.

This dominance was evident in the unhurried way Vikram Pillay surveyed the field when he had possession in midfield, ignoring the pressure of the Navy players with a little flick this way or a half-turn that way before picking out a teammate's run with a crisp pass. Around Vikram the rest of the team buzzed. Arjun Halappa opened Air India's scoring with a third minute field goal and was an energetic, dangerous presence throughout in the right-central channel, whether taking defenders on one-on-one or playing no-look first-time flicks into the path of the onrushing right half.

The experienced centre forward Samir Dad, meanwhile, was economical with his movement but always seemed to get into dangerous positions, either dropping off the front or peeling left. It was from the inside-left channel that Dad created Air India's second, flicking a pass into the path of Mohammad Sahir, who completed a sprawling finish in the 20th minute.

Late in the first half, Ved Prakash brought Navy back into the match with a 33rd minute field goal, but it was to prove only a brief aberration in the tale of Air India hegemony, which Lalit Upadhyay's 66th minute goal confirmed, as he completed a 3-1 win.

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