Soon after being named captain on Friday, Services’ central defender P.S. Sumesh spoke a bit worriedly about his team’s opening game against Railways.

“That’s going to be a very tough one,” said the 34-year-old. “In fact, whoever wins that game should qualify for the semifinal from our group.”

But disappointingly, after 90 minutes of action, there were no goals at the virtually empty Nehru Stadium here on Saturday. And defending champion Services was forced to share points with former champion Railways in its 67th Santosh Trophy National football championship opener.

Thankfully, the next Group A quarterfinal league game, in which Odisha edged out Madhya Pradesh 3-2, made up for the disappointment.

The teams, especially the champion, had plenty of chances. Following a Sumesh free-kick, Farhad headed straight into Railways’ goalkeeper V.P. Sathish Kumar’s hands in the 27th minute and a little later, Subrata Sarkar failed to connect a nice cross.

The champion became desperate towards the end of the first session but Man-of-the-match Satish Kumar pulled off some fine saves, pushing back Shadip Rai’s hard shot into play and then tipping over Farhad’s strong attempt.

Railways thrived on counterattacks and despite some good work by central midfielder M. Regin and left-winger Sibra Narzary, Riju and Jagtar Singh were off target.

Services created more chances in the second session, one of which — by Lalramnieng Mawia in the 51st minute — shook Sathish, but he pouched the ball on his second attempt.

The other Group A game, between Odisha and MP, looked to be heading the same way. But after a barren first half, the match suddenly came alive in the 62nd minute, when Abhimanyu Pandey, who replaced captain Gokul Oram in the second session, gave Odisha the lead.

But each time, Odisha scored, MP came right back with an equaliser till Sanjit Panna scored the match-winner in the first minute of injury time which gave Odisha a 3-2 victory and three happy points.

The results (quarterfinal league, Group A): Services 0 drew with Railways 0.

Odisha 3 (Abhimanyu Pandey 62, Mohd. Ehesan Khan 79, Sanjit Panna 90+1) bt Madhya Pradesh 2 (Phurba 72, Jawed Manihar 82).

Sunday’s matches: Group C: J&K v Haryana; Kerala v UP.

Keywords: Santosh trophy

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