It lives up to its reputation in outsmarting the young CAG side 4-1 in the final

Rookie drag-flicker Gaganpreet Singh scored a brilliant hat-trick as Air India outsmarted Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) 4-1 to win the title in the National ‘A’ division hockey championship at the Dhyan Chand Stadium here on Sunday.

Defending champion Air India was the runaway favourite against the young CAG team in the title clash. Air India, packed with Olympians and World Cuppers, lived up to its reputation as CAG, which had some injury worries, struggled to cope with the pressure of playing in the big match.

Air India controlled the ball and pace of the match to deny CAG any early advantage. Vikram Pillay, Ajmer Singh, Arjun Halappa and Girish Pimpale were in command in the midfield and created lot of opportunities for their colleagues upfront.

Constant threat

The seasoned Sameer Dad remained a constant threat on the left and provided some of the finest passes for Shivendra Singh. Young probationer Armaan Qureshi showed glimpses of his worth in the forward line.

Air India’s repeated efforts paid off when Gaganpreet hit low to CAG custodian Mrinal Choube’s left to convert his team’s fourth penalty corner in the 14th minute.

Air India maintained its stranglehold with some tight marking as CAG opted for long hits and scoops to release the pressure. The title holder got a significant edge when Gaganpreet struck again, this time to the right of the CAG ‘keeper, six minutes before the first hooter.

The story remained unchanged even after the break. Gaganpreet, playing his first top level tournament for Air India, launched another low drag-flick to complete his hat-trick minutes after resumption. He was later declared the player of the tournament.

The result was a foregone conclusion by this time. Led by the busy Sarvjeet Singh, CAG, which had showed no urgency so far, improved its circle penetration and was able to reduce the margin.

CAG’s second short corner resulted in a penalty stroke and Dhyan Singh managed to beat Adrian D’Souza to make it 3-1 in the 58th minute.

Solid performance

D’Souza, however, again gave a solid performance and stopped at least two dangerous shots. He was adjudged the best goalkeeper of the event for the second consecutive year.

Osaf-ur-Rehman slammed home a rebound to restore Air India’s lead.

“We knew CAG was an inexperienced side and did not have too many combinations. So we maintained pressure from the start and scored timely goals,” said Air India captain Prabodh Tirkey.

UP finishes third

Uttar Pradesh fought back to beat Railways 4-2 and take the third place on home turf. Diwakar Ram scored a brace, while Tushar Khandker and Amir Khan contributed one goal each. Belsajar Horo hit both the goals for Railways.

The results:

Final: Air India 4 (Gaganpreet Singh 14, 29, 39, Osaf-ur-Rehman 65) bt CAG 1 (Dhyan Singh 58).

Third place: Uttar Pradesh Hockey 4 (Diwakar Ram 41 & 60, Tushar Khandker 24, Amir Khan 51) bt Railways 2 (Belsajar Horo 12 & 65).

Individual awards: Best goalkeeper: Adrain D’Souza (Air India); Best defender: Diwakar Ram (UP); Best midfielder: M.B. Aiyappa (CAG); Best forward: Shivendra Singh (Air India); Player of the tournament: Gagandeep Singh (Air India).

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