Bangalore Hi-Fliers and Chandigarh Dynamos set up a title clash after winning their semifinal matches in the fourth edition of Premier Hockey League in Chandigarh on Saturday.
The Hi-Fliers edged past defending champions Orissa Steelers while home favourites Dynamos pipped Hyderabad Sultans in the closely-fought semis clashes that went down to the wires to be decided via penalty shoot-outs at the Sector-42 Stadium.
The Bangalore-Orissa tie was more engrossing as the Hi-Fliers staged a fightback to emerge victors after being two goals down.
Sunil Ekka (11th, 16th minutes) scored two beautiful goals to put Orissa ahead in the first quarter.
But Bangalore drag-flicker Len Aiyappa converted two penalty corners (23 rd, 62st) to drag the contest to extra-time and ultimately to penalty shoot-outs.
In the tie-breaker, the Bangalore team won 3-2 to march into the best of three finals.
In the other last-four encounter, Dynamos and Sultans failed to open the account in the regulation time and were locked 1-1 after extra time forcing the match to go into the shoot-outs.
After four dreary quarters, young drag-flicker Diwakar Ram infused life into the semifinal encounter by converting a penalty corner in the third minute of the extra time.
Just before the first half of the extra time, Deepak Thakur flicked one home to draw parity for the home side.
At the do-or-die stage, the cool-headed Dynamos displayed their skills to get the better of the Sultans 4-2.
The Sultans, packed with promising players, sprung a surprise and gave the star-studded Dynamos a run for their money by putting up a solid defence to thwart the Chandigarh team's reputed forwardline comprising captain Rajpal Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur and Inderjit Singh Chadha.
Sultans' under-21 players Samir Baxla and Anand Tirkey competed with the experienced strikers of the Dynamos and did not let them an easy chance to score.
On the up, budding forward Pramod Kumar impressed all with his dashing moves and on-the-run shots which, unfortunately failed to yield any result.
The Sultans earned four penalty corners while the Dynamos managed only one and that tells a lot about the two teams' performance on the day.
If the match lacked the entertainment in the regulation time, Pramod Kumar's solo run down the left flank won a penalty corner for the Sultans as Sandeep Singh blocked the forward's progress.
Diwakar Ram was right on target with his low-trajectory drag-flick and it proved to be too good for the Dynamos' goalkeeper Baljit Singh.
The Dynamos now stepped up their attack and a superb pass from Sandeep was flicked in by Deepak Thakur, who was later adjudged the man-of-the-match, to score the equalizer within a few moments of conceding the lead.
The goal, however, raised controversy with Sultans' coach P Madhukaran having a hot exchange of words with umpire Virendra Bahadur.
The Sultans objected the goal on the ground that the ball was dangerously rising up.
On the other hand, Orissa Steelers displayed excellent team work and skillful game to outshine the Bangalore side in the first half.
In the first quarter itself, they went 2-0 up thanks to two spectacular goals by Ekka.
First, he dived forward to tap in a Dilip Tirkey short corner attempt and a few minutes later received a ball from the right, took it ahead and stretched forward to hit astunning goal from a reverse stick.
However, the Bangalore team, clearly on the back foot in early part of the match regrouped and made a comeback to pounce upon the defensive lapses of the Orissa team whose players' spirits dropped towards the last quarter.
Their trump-card Aiyappa hit the bull's eye twice to neutralise the rivals' lead.
Bangalore goalkeeper Bharat Chetri was declared the man-of-the-match.
The two finals will be held on January 7 and 9 and if required the third final will be played on January 11.