Bangalore, Oct 2: An own goal in the second minute of extra-time gave Punjab a 2-1 victory over Air India in the final of Hockey India’s second senior men’s National hockey championship, here on Tuesday.
After a blank first-half, Punjab took the lead through Prabhdeep Singh (36th), but Air India leveled a couple of minutes later when Vinaya Vokkaliga (38th) 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 for the match-winner.
Earlier, Karnataka beat last year’s champions Haryana 2-1 to finish third with goals by MB Aiyappa (24th) and VR Raghunath (41st). For Haryana, Sardar Singh (60th) scored their lone goal.
While Prabhdeep Singh was adjudged Man of the Final, special awards were presented to Arjun Halappa of Air India (Best Forward of tournament), Gurjinder Singh of Punjab (Best Defenderof tournament) and MB Aiyappa of Karnataka (Upcoming Player of the Tournament).
Karnataka Chief Minister Mr. Jagadish Shettar was the chief guest of the evening while BJP leader Mr Arun Jaitley presided.
Overall, Punjab, bronze medalists last year, were worthy winners of the trophy given the abundant talent in the side besides the youth that brimmed over with enthusiasm.
Air India, rather lucky to make the final after a close 3-2 win over Karnataka in the semi-finals on Monday, played as well as they could, but on the day, their best was not enough.
The teams shared honours in the first-half with both having fair share of scoring opportunities, but neither was able to convert them into goals. 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, came up short at the finish.
If anything, Air India looked better organized and sharper compared to their lackluster performance in the semi-finals 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 putting Punjab in the lead as he scored off a Satbir- Akashdeep move from the right hardly a minute into the session.
Not to be outdone, Air India equalized soon after as Vinaya converted a penalty corner two minutes later and the match sparked to life.
The proceedings swung from end to end as the pace noticeably picked up. Punjab had the better of chances, including five penalty corners, but their specialist Gurjinder Singh, who had converted two apiece in the previous two rounds, failed.
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 on the proceedings, the game flowed into extra-time and golden goal period.
With a minute of extra-time, Punjab clinched the issue with an own goal as Gurbaj Singh’s hard hit into the circle struck the boards off Joga Singh’s stick.
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 as Air India who have so many Olympians and international stars. We knew it would be a tough game and had a particular strategy.
“In the first-half, we opted for a half-court press, but in the second session, we changed it to full- court press and you could see the difference. We attacked a lot and it made a difference,” said Saini.
Final: Punjab 2 (Prabhdeep Singh 36th, Own Goal 72nd) beat Air India 1 (Vinaya Vokkaliga 38th).
3-4 classification: Karnataka 2 (MB Aiyappa 24th; VR Raghunath 41st) beat Haryana 1 (Sardar Singh 60th) (Detailed Report here).
Hockey India Press Release