Punjab emerge champions in senior hockey national

Bangalore: An own goal in the second minute of extra-time helped Punjab register a 2-1 victory over Air India and claim the second Hockey India Senior Men`s National championship title here today.

After a blank first-half, Punjab took the lead through Prabhdeep Singh in the 36th minute before Air India scored an equaliser a couple of minutes later when Vinaya Vokkaliga (38th min) converted a penalty corner.

With the regulation period ending in a 1-1 deadlock, the extra-time was enforced and in the second minute, Gurbaaj Singh`s hard hit from the right went into the goal off defender Joga Singh`s stick.

Earlier on the day, Karnataka beat defending champions champions Haryana 2-1 to finish third in the tournament.

Karnataka scored once in each half through MB Aiyappa and skipper VR Raghunath. While Aiyappa struck in the 24th minute from a goalmouth scramble following a left-wing move, Raghunath converted a penalty corner in the 41st minute.

Haryana captain Sardar Singh scored with a reverse hit in the 60th minute to reduce the margin.

Singh was adjudged Man of the Final, special awards were presented to Arjun Halappa of Air India (Best Forward of the tournament), Gurjinder Singh of Punjab (Best Defender of the tournament) and MB Aiyappa of Karnataka (Upcoming Player of the tournament).

Karnataka Chief Minister, Jagadish Shettar was the chief guest on the occasion.

Punjab, bronze medallists last year, were worthy winners of the trophy given the abundant talent in the side, besides the presence of youngsters.

Air India, who were rather lucky to have made the final after a close 3-2 win over Karnataka yesterday, played as well as they could, but on the day, their best was not enough.

In the first half both the teams had their fair share of scoring opportunities, but neither of them were able to convert the chances successfully as the emphasis was more on caution rather than all-out aggression.

Air India, with a wealth of collective experience, sought
to slow down the pace, while the youthful Punjab showed greater urgency. But, like their rivals, Punjab also came up short at the finish.

If anything, Air India looked better organised and sharper compared to their lackluster performance in the semifinals, while Punjab seemed to struggle to break free to play at a faster pace that would have suited them.

The second half began on a rousing note with Prabhdeep giving Punjab the lead as he scored off a Satbir-Akashdeep move from the right, hardly a minute into the session.

Air India, however, soon produced an equaliser through Vinaya`s penalty corner conversion.
The proceedings swung from end to end as the pace noticeably picked up. Punjab had better chances, including five penalty corners, but their specialist Gurjinder Singh, who had converted two apiece in the previous two rounds, failed today.

Also, Air India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, the goal notwithstanding, enjoyed a good session as he brought off some quality saves to keep his team afloat.

On their part, Air India had fewer openings, one of them being when Vikram Pillay, one of the three brothers in the team, drove wide off the wrong foot with goalkeeper out of position.
With neither team able to stamp its authority during the course of the match, the game flowed into the extra-time.

With a minute into the extra-time, Punjab clinched the issue with an own goal.

An ecstatic Punjab team coach Baljit Singh Saini said, "Obviously, it is a wonderful moment for Punjab who last month had won the junior National title and this team here has seven players from that team.

"The victory is very special also because we beat such an experienced side like Air India, who have so many Olympians and international stars. We knew it would be a tough game and had a particular strategy."

In today`s play-off involving the 2011 finalists,
Karnataka dominated from the word go and could have actually won by a bigger margin. But they once again ended up wasting a number of scoring chances. Haryana, meanwhile, showed urgency only late in the match.

Karnataka, showing appreciable fluency and purpose, applied pressure on Haryana, but the forwards proved to be real let-downs as they failed to cash in on the openings inside the striking circle.

It was left to Aiyappa to open the account for Karnataka with an opportunistic goal that inspired the hosts to intensify their efforts.

However, it was not until 41st minute that Karnataka managed to breach the Haryana defence when Raghunath came good with a drag-flick for the only penalty corner conversion from five attempts.

At the other end, Haryana had few opportunities as they could not find a way through the well-organised Karnataka defence, which though slackened in the last quarter and it saw Sardar Singh latching on to a pass to essay a reverse hit to goal.

With time running out, Haryana switched to an all-court press, but Karnataka pulled back all their players to defend and managed to nurse their slender lead to the final hooter.

In fact, Haryana forced four of their seven penalty corners in the second-half, all proving abortive, while Karnataka received five chances, but could convert only one.


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