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WORTHY CHAMPION: The Bengal team which won the National under-21 football tournament at Jamalpur on Thursday. Photo: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH
WORTHY CHAMPION: The Bengal team which won the National under-21 football tournament at Jamalpur on Thursday. Photo: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

Sports Reporter

JAMALPUR: Bengal continued its supremacy in the National under-21 football beating Punjab 1-0 in the final and retained the trophy named after Manindra Dutta Ray.

Striker Ayan Chowdhury, making a comeback from injury, scored the all-important goal in the 16th minute to help Bengal lift the crown for the sixth time in the 14 editions so far.

The final, at the Jamalpur Sports Association Stadium on Thursday, turned out to be a lopsided affair, Bengal dominating the match with superior display of planning and skill. The defending champion, however, missed several scoring opportunities after taking the lead.

Punjab could not replicate the dynamism and drive it had shown in its 3-0 win over Kerala in the semifinals.

Mid-field domination

The game was won and lost in the midfield. The Bengal half-line comprising wingers Buangpuia Ralte and Ratan Das and centre-halves

Prasanta Chakraborty and Seikh Azim galvanized the strikers with effective passing. On the other hand the Punjab midfielders looked utterly out of ideas. Punjab coach Jagir Singh exhausted his quota of substitutions trying out different combinations to revive the team's sagging midfield but all his efforts were in vain. Bengal left-back Avishek Aich was also outstanding and performed equally well in both creative and defensive roles. He set up the goal releasing Chodhury with a measured pass into the box that ripped apart the Punjab defence.

After the goal Aich showed greater initiative in the attack, making effective overlaps and almost scored twice. His first effort in the 37th minute was saved brilliantly by Punjab custodian Bawa Singh, while the second attempt in the 61st minute came off the upright.

Punjab's chance

Punjab's only clear opportunity came in the 82nd minute. But the goal remained elusive as substitute Rohit Kumar failed to connect properly allowing his marker to send the ball out of danger.

Bengal held on to the slender lead as the opposition failed to make any further attempt.

The Bengal coach Raghu Nandi congratulated his team for performing "consistently well'' throughout the tournament.

"Two years ago we had lost the title against the same opposition and at the same venue in a bitter match that saw three players from our team suspended for misconduct. My boys erased the blemish winning the title with an unparalleled record - we did not concede a single goal nor did any of my players receive a yellow card in the tournament,'' he said.

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