Ranchi Rhinos came from a goal down to beat Delhi Waveriders 2-1 and win the inaugural Hockey India League in a thrilling summit clash in front of a capacity home crowd at the Astroturf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi, on Sunday.
The Rhinos were trailing for most part of the match after Simon Child gave Delhi the lead in the 25th minute.
But the Ranchi outfit never gave up and displayed tremendous fighting spirit to score through Austin Smith (55th) before Manpreet Singh (63rd) scored a late winner for the home team.
Earlier in the day, Uttar Pradesh Wizards rode on captain V R Raghunath's four goals, including a hat-trick, to finish third, defeating Jaypee Punjab Warriors 4-3 in the bronze medal play-off match.
As expected, the title clash, a match between the two best outfits of the tournament, displayed scintillating hockey by both Delhi and Ranchi, which was fast and free-flowing.
The Rhinos seemed to enjoy playing in front of a vociferous home crowd as they overshadowed the Waveriders, at least, in the first quarter.
The match started on an aggressive note with both the teams adopting an attacking approach but it was the Rhinos who dominated the early exchanges with more penetrations inside their rival's circle.
The Waveriders, however, picked up their game in the second quarter and scored against the run of play in the 25th minute through Child to silence the capacity crowd.
An opportunistic Child slammed the ball into the right corner of the Ranchi post after picking up a loose ball inside the 'D'.
The Rhinos got an opportunity to draw parity in the 32nd minute when they earned their first penalty corner, but skipper Moritz Fuerste's low flick was saved by an alert Nicolas Jacobi at the Delhi goal.
Leading by a goal, the Waveriders started the second half on a positive note and soon managed to earn three penalty corners in succession but Rupinder Pal Singh wasted all the three with Ranchi goal-keeper Fransico Cortes coming to his side's rescue on two occasions.
The Rhinos were unlucky not to have levelled the scoreline just before the end of the third quarter. Their star forward and tournament's highest scorer Mandeep Singh missed a sitter from close range after he was set up by Fuerste.
The Rhinos made continuous inroads into the rival citadel in search of the equalizer and their consistent pressure finally paid off in the 55th minute when Smith brought the hosts on level terms.
Smith beautifully executed a variation with a grounded flick from the Ranchi's third penalty corner after earning the set piece following a successful referral appeal. After managing to equalize, the Rhinos went for the killer blow which rocked the Delhi defence.
After holding on to most part of the game, the Waveriders' backline started to buckle under Ranchi's consistent pressure and in the process made a mistake which cost them the title.
Ranchi earned another penalty corner in the 63rd minute and Manpreet scored from a rebound after Ashley Jackson's initial flick was saved.
With time running out, Delhi pressed hard for an all-important equalizer but it was not to be as the Rhinos' defenders were up to the task.
It was a double celebration for the Rhinos as they not only won the inaugural HIL title but also bagged the Fair Play Trophy. Ranchi's young forward Mandeep Singh also won the most promising player of the tournament.
Despite the defeat there was something to cheer about for the Waveriders as its skipper Sardar Singh was adjudged player of the tournament.
Besides the trophy, champions Ranchi Rhinos pocketed Rs 2.5 crores, while runners-up Delhi Waveriders took home Rs 1.25 crore. Third-placed Uttar Pradesh Wizards got richer by 75 lakhs.