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Punjab staves off a strong challenge from Bengal

M.R. Praveen Chandran
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FOOTBALL / Karnataka cashes in on Manipur’s errors, keeps its hopes alive

POWERING THROUGH:Punjab's Prem Kumar hogged the limelight, scoring twice, in his team’s 4-3 win over Bengal in the Santosh Trophy on Monday.— Photo: C. Suresh Kumar
POWERING THROUGH:Punjab's Prem Kumar hogged the limelight, scoring twice, in his team’s 4-3 win over Bengal in the Santosh Trophy on Monday.— Photo: C. Suresh Kumar

Punjab withstood a spirited fightback from Bengal before winning 4-3 in a pulsating Group D quarterfinal league contest of the 67th Santosh Trophy at the Lal Bahadur Stadium here on Monday.

Punjab, with this win, is on top with six points from two matches while Karnataka kept its faint hopes alive with a 3-1 win over Manipur in the other Group D match.

Bengal captain and goalkeeper Arnab Das Sharma’s blunders undid a fine comeback by the 31-time champion in what was easily the best match of the tournament. Arnab’s errors cost Bengal dearly as it trailed by three goals at half-time.

Bengal, however, refused to go down without a fight and had Nabin Hela not missed a penalty, the outcome would have been different.

Arnab first let in a volley from Sajandeep Singh as Punjab opened its account in the 14th minute. There was no real power behind the shot, but the Bengal goalkeeper made a mess of it and allowed the ball to roll into the net.

Punjab increased the lead in the 21st minute when Bengal defender Saurav Chakraborthy brought down Bali Gagandeep inside the box and the resultant penalty was coolly slotted home by Prem Kumar.

Bengal coach Manorajan Battacharya made two substitutions to reinforce the attack and his side came out of its shell. It had the first look at the rival goal when Hela got himself into a fine position but the shot hit the goalkeeper’s body and went out.

The third Punjab goal, which came in injury time, was fortuitous.

Arnab, who had advanced too far, could only watch in embarrassment as another speculative high lob which, in fact, was a clearance by Punjab defender Afftabvir Singh from 40 yards went in.

Regrouping

In the second half, Punjab made the mistake of trying to preserve its lead, allowing Bengal to regroup and wrest control of the midfield. Mohammed Muktar, Francis Xavier and Soumik Roy worked in tandem to feed strikers Hela and Dipendu Biswas.

In the 62nd minute, Bengal had an opportunity to reduce the margin when it earned a penalty after Mohammed Muktar was hacked down by Sukhjit Singh. However, Punjab goalkeeper Paramjit Singh saved the penalty taken by Hela.

Two minutes later, Nabin made amends by providing the cross which was slotted home by Jagannath Sena. Dipendu Biswas netted the second goal in the 76th minute as Bengal clawed back into the match. But, Arnab’s nightmare continued as he misjudged another innocuous high ball from the right. The ball landed between Arnab and Bengal defender Soumik Roy who slipped and fell. The loose ball came to the unmarked Prem, who accepted the gift gleefully in the 79th minute.

Bengal didn’t give up and its sustained aggression saw Hela score the third goal off a Jaganath Sena cross in the 89th minute. However, Punjab tightened its defence to emerge a 4-3 winner.

Leaky defence

Unlike Bengal, Manipur allowed Karnataka’s strike force of Stephen and Rajesh far too many liberties. By the time Manipur plugged the holes in its defence, the match was as good as over.

In the third minute, Stephen profited from some slack defending by Manipur captain M. Meino, who cleared the ball straight to the striker.

In the 10th minute, the Manipur defence failed to clear a high ball from the left and Rajesh sneaked in to head home the second goal.

Manipur, which managed to frustrate Karnataka for the rest of the first half, pulled one back after the break when Meino scored off a spectacular volley in the 63rd minute. Amoes, however, restored Karnataka’s advantage by scoring in the 82nd minute.

The results: Group D:

Punjab 4 (Sajandeep Singh 14, Prem Kumar 21 & 79, Afftabvir Singh 45) bt Bengal 3 (Jagannath Sana 64, Dipendu Biswas 76, Nabin Hela 89).

Karnataka 3 (V. Stephen 3, S. Rajesh 10, Amoes 82) bt Manipur 1 (Meino 63).

Tuesday’s matches: Maharashtra v Tamil Nadu; Goa v Jharkhand.

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