Two lovely goals in the space of nine minutes in extra-time helped defending champion Services beat a ten-man Punjab 3-1 and enter the final of the Santosh Trophy National football championship at the Nehru Stadium here on Friday night.
Substitute Lalian Mawia, who made his entry in the 61st minute, was the day’s star as he not only scored the Services’ equaliser in the 85th minute but also came up with a beauty in the 117th which saw the pressure ease in the champion’s camp after Dhanji Singh had given the side the lead in the 108th.
Vijay Kumar had put Punjab in the 20th minute.
Services will meet host Kerala in Sunday’s final.
Still, it was Punjab which dominated play with a fluent game. It advanced with smart two-touch, three-touch moves, finding the space in the Services midfield easily. And with defender Sandip Singh and midfielder Gurtej Singh giving the Services left-winger Shadip Rai — who had created a lot of openings for the team in earlier games — a hard time, Services choked.
“Punjab looks very impressive, it plays direct football, no gimmicks,” said former international Sabir Pasha, who is now here as an AIFF selector, during the break.
“Probably they have good players because they don’t have an I-League team.”
The Punjab winger Taranjit Singh did a good job on the right, sending smart crosses inside the box. It was one such feed that saw Punjab taking the lead in the 20th minute.
The midfielder’s curling cross from the right to Rohit inside the box had the goalkeeper Nano Singh rushing towards the danger.
Rohit tried a dipping header but it just fell weakly towards Vijay Kumar who finished the job.
But the turning point came in the 56th minute when Taranjit was given the marching orders after receiving his second yellow card in the game, the latter one for faking an injury.
Services, however, was unable to capitalise on the huge advantage for almost 30 minutes after that as Punjab fought hard, bolstered its defence by bringing eight men to the back, leaving out just the striker Bali Gagandeep.
Just when Punjab appeared set to pull off a fantastic victory, Mawia netted the equaliser in a goalmouth melee.
And after the first half of extra-time went goalless, Dhanji Singh raced to meet Mawia’s cross from the left and sent it home (108th minute).
A little later, Mawia completed a happy day by scoring with a rising shot which foxed the Punjab goalkeeper Paramjith Singh completely.
The results (semifinal):
Services 3 (Lalian Mawia 85, 117, Dhanji Singh 108) bt Punjab 1 (Vijay Kumar 20th).