SPORT

Punjab has the last laugh

Special Correspondent

MARGAO: Mizoram flaunted its ball skills, created midfield space at will and Lalrinfela on the left flank set up two goals.

Punjab brushed off the body blows, soaked up the pressure and responded with swift strikes to wipe off the deficit in the National under-21 football tournament final.

Four second-half goals, following a watchful first half by both teams, set the stage for a gripping climax at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday.

Punjab produced the match-winner out of nowhere to lift the Dutta Ray Trophy with a 3-2 verdict.

Ajay Singh set the tone for Punjab’s fightback with the best of five goals scored in the title clash. His power-packed left-footer, hit on the run, saw the ball travelling like a rocket straight into the net over Mizoram goalkeeper Zomuankuma (2-2).

Ajay tapped in the winning goal later, punishing a nervous collection by the rival custodian.

Vijay Kumar’s opportunism had fetched the champion its first goal, hitting home a rebound following a free-kick hit by Onkar Singh through the wall which the custodian blocked.

Lalrinfela, on the watch list of several I-League clubs, delivered on the big occasion with a precise cross from near the left corner for Zothansanga, lurking behind the defence, to nod home and make it 1-0.

The left-footed playmaker then produced a pull-back for Lalhuapzauva to deflect home (2-0).

Mizoram, engaging in elaborate build-ups in a crowded Punjab half, was expected to press the accelerator. Instead, two hasty blocks by Zomuankuma under the bar gave its opponent a glimmer of hope.

Vijay and Ajay seized the opportunity to break open the door of opportunity and put Punjab on the road to victory.

The result (final): Punjab 3 (Vijay Kumar, Ajay Singh 2) bt Mizoram 2 (C. Zothansanga, T. Lalhuapzauva).

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