MPHA beats Maharashtra to third

Punjab retained the National junior men’s hockey championship on Thursday, defeating Odisha 2-1 in the final at the Motilal Nehru Sports Complex, Rai in Sonepat. Captain Gaganpreet Singh scored both goals for Punjab while Joseph Toppo reduced the margin.

It was a battle of equals between teams with contrasting styles. Physically superior Punjab was off the blocks early and played a tactical game. It made full use of the flanks to open gaps upfront.

The fact that a majority of its players are also trainees at the Surjeet Hockey Academy in Jalandhar only made the plans easier to execute.

“Our hard work at the grassroots is now paying off. It feels great to win back-to-back National titles,” an ecstatic Punjab coach Avtar Singh said.

Odisha, on the other hand, was more reliant on skill and speed. Slow to start with, it suffered an early reverse when Punjab took advantage of its early push to get the opening goal in the 10th minute through a penalty corner.

Immensely fit and consistent, Odisha gradually pushed its way back into the game. Packing its defence on either side and led by Anand Lakra and Dipsan Tirkey, tried to choke Punjab’s attack and succeeded. Moving in a pack, Odisha finally struck in the 24th minute when Toppo tapped in off a cross from Teophil Kujur on the left even as the Punjab defenders stayed rooted in a rare defensive lapse.

The deadlock was broken in the 63rd minute, when Punjab earned two consecutive penalty corners, the second one resulting in a hotly-contested penalty stroke. Gaganpreet’s shot deflected off goalkeeper Subodh Tirkey’s pads past the goalline.

That goal sapped Odisha’s morale and though it earned a penalty corner in the final few seconds, it never looked like scoring again. The match had been all but over for the last seven minutes. “Our forwards had an off day today, but we still had our chances. I am satisfied with the performance of the boys though,” Odisha coach R.K. Saini said.

In the playoff for third place, Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy beat Maharashtra 5-4 in a hard-fought match. MPHA took a 4-2 lead before Maharashtra struck back to level scores. With the game looking to go into extra time, Arjun Sharma struck the winner for MPHA in the final seconds of the match.

The results: Final: Punjab 2 (Gaganpreet Singh 2) beat Odisha 1 (Joseph Toppo); third place: MPHA 5 (Mohammed Nizamuddin 2, Arjun Sharma 2, Arman Qureshi) beat Maharashtra 4 (Mithilesh Kumar 2, Ashutosh Lingesh, own goal).

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