Gobindra Bora helps Assam clinch gold

MOMENT TO CHERISH: Assam team celebrates after winning the football final. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar  

A. Vinod

Guwahati: It was one gold that Assam had been seeking right from the start of the 33rd National Games in football. And though in suspense for more than two hours, it was a sweet end to the dreams of the home side and its legion of supporters at the Nehru stadium here on Saturday.

It was a match which Assam could have easily sewed up at the expense of Tamil Nadu right through full-time. But it was not to be, leaving the fate of the encounter to be decided through penalties. The prayers were finally answered and it was the Gobindra Bora who emerged as the hero for Assam as he stopped James Singh's final shot giving the home team a deserving 6-5 win.

The stadium was packed to its seams at least an hour before the match got going, which in more ways than one was itself a great surprise to the local scribes. Never over the last 20 years had a football match drawn such a crowd. But this time, it was different as Assam was having a go at a major title.

And as anticipated by the huge crowd, which braved a heavy evening chill to support the home side, Assam held sway in the initial stages even as Tamil Nadu found itself forced to back-pedal most of the time.

Tamil Nadu defenders Kali Alauddin, Anbumani and Karthik were kept on their toes to keep Sanjeeva Rongpi and Ajit Singh at bay.

The net was torn by a shot from Rongpi, who however, was pulled up for offside, causing a three-minute stoppage of play. When play resumed Assam got its act together in the right flank too with Monikanta Brahma and Thoiba Singh pressing hard from that area.

This much-needed synchronization in the attack brought Assam its first goal. The crucial strike came in the 18th-minute when Ajit Singh having got into the box produced a beauty of a pass to Mrinal Boro, who came darting in from the left. With no rival defender in sight, it was quite easy for Boro to conquer Edwin under the Tamil Nadu bar.

But the joy was short-lived as Tamil Nadu equalised ten minutes later. Having been forced to play second fiddle all the time, it was the first serious foray that Tamil Nadu managed. Jotin Singh was fed with a brilliant through pass by Rajesh from the centre, and the Tamil Nadu forward never had any difficulty to put the ball past a diving Gobindra Bora. In fact, the entire Assam defence was caught napping when Jotin pushed his way forward and came with a sliding shot much beyond the reach of Bora.

Yet, it was Assam which still called the shots as it gave a tough time to the Tamil Nadu defence. However, all the good work from the midfield and the flanks remained futile as the frontline was way off the mark when provided with many opportunities to seal the match.

The final session was almost a repeat of the first-half. And again, it was a story of missed chances. But with just a minute left for the whistle, Rongpi looked to the have achieved the much-required breakthrough for Assam when he scored off a melee. But having remained on the line after his first attempt was pushed away by the Tamil Nadu goalkeeper, Rongpi was quite rightly pulled up for off-side.

The two session of extra-time too failed to produce the deadlock, paving the way for the nerve-wrecking penalties.

Sanjeeva Rongpi, Mrinal Boro, Dhanachandra Singh, Thoiba Singh and Naoba Singh all converted for Assam while Kali Alauddin, Muthu, Rajesh and Jotin Singh kept the match live for Tamil Nadu before James Singh's shot was easily saved by Bora.

It was also a wonderful sight to see the Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, break into a jig after the all-important goal.

Earlier in the day, Orissa stunned Manipur 4-3 also via the tie-breaker to clinch the women's gold. The match during the regulation period and the extra-time was a rather dull affair played at a very slow pace.

In the penalty shootout, Sudipta Dash, Anupama Das, Alochana Senapathi and Sarita Jayanti Behera scored for Orissa while only L. Naobi Chanu, M. Mandakini Devi and L. Asharani Devi could find the target for Manipur.