FOOTBALL/ Balraj powers Railways to a facile win over Goa
A spirited Services twice recovered from a deficit to hold last year's runner-up Punjab 2-2 in the opening Group ‘B' league match of the 65th senior National football championship, for the Santosh Trophy, here on Friday.
Barjinder Singh Chema and Gurpreet Singh found the target for Punjab while Gordon Zoramchana and G.S. Sandhu brought Services back into the game.
Later, Railways shocked strong Goa 3-0 in the second Group ‘B' match. Striker Balraj Singh scored a brace while his colleague upfront P.C. Riju completed the tally.
Playing its first encounter of the tournament, Punjab appeared a bit rusty and committed some defensive errors that allowed Services to come back into the action both the times it went a goal down.
Services, which qualified to the elite quarterfinal stage after winning the preliminary clusters and the subsequent play-offs, showed better adjustment to the conditions.
Being more of a journeyman outfit, that depended more on hard-work than individual brilliance, Services chased its fancied opponent hard and used the counter-attacks effectively to stay in the match.
Striker Arjun Tudu, with his unrelenting runs, put the Punjab defence under pressure. Tudu came close to scoring in the sixth and ninth minute but remained scrappy with his finishing.
Showing better finishing ability, Punjab found the break in the 22nd minute when Barjinder placed the ball home from a rebound that resulted when Onkar Singh's attempt came off the upright. The lead lasted only a minute before Zoramchana found the Punjab net with swerving free-kick (1-1).
With Punjab pushing hard to regain the lead, forward Rohit almost realised it in the 26th minute but for Services defender P.S. Sumesh, who cleared the former's header from the line.
Keeping up the pressure, Punjab found the lead in the 38th minute when Gurpreet produced a fine goal after Rohit released him clear of the Services defence, heading down a floater from the midfield (2-1).
Services found the equaliser off another set-piece situation in the 56th minute.
Sandhu finely judged a header from Zoramchana, who helped a corner along towards Punjab goalmouth, and found the net beating the Punjab custodian Paramjit Singh (2-2).
Encouraged by the equaliser, Services pressed for a win and came close to realising it twice.
The hard-working Tudu's first attempt (83rd minute) was brilliantly saved by the Paramjit and the his next, which happened a minute later, came off the crosspiece.
In the second match, Railways made its intention clear by getting a goal in the third minute when Riju found the Goan net with a fine placing, after receiving a through-pass from the midfield.
Goa failed to recover from the early setback despite getting a few opportunities to equalise in the first session.
Former Dempo SC custodian V.P. Satish Kumar, who manned the Railways goal, blocked the few Goa attacks that could permeate the former's defence.
Impressing with its form and fitness, Railways doubled the lead in the 50th minute through Balraj, who nodded home a fine centre from Majid Khan.
This almost ended Goa's hopes of a comeback before Balraj sealed the match in Railways' favour with his second and team's third goal in the 80th minute.
Saturday's matches:Chhattisgarh vs. Manipur (3.30 p.m.); Bengal vs. Tamil Nadu (5.45 p.m.).