Mumbai, Sep 22 (UNI) Air India struck the winner just two minutes from the end to rally to a thrilling 5-4 victory over Indian Oil Corporation in a high quality final, to clinch the title in the 8th All India Guru Tegh Bahadur Gold Cup hockey tournament at the Mahindra Stadium here today.
Air India's triumph denied IOC an opportunity to avenge their recent Murugappa Gold Cup defeat after the oilmen squandered a 3-0 advantage as early as the 11th minute.
IOC got off to a dream start after putting behind a first minute threat by Air India when a selfish Arjun Halappa trapped a long through pass but hit wide.
IOC seized the opportunity and before Air India could settle down, raced to a stunning 3-0 advantage much before the first quarter.
Defender V Raghunath fired in the first two goals in the fourth and eighth minutes after IOC earned their opening two penalty corners in quick succession.
The unassuming Bharat Chinkara swelled the tally in the 11th minute after the AI defenders surprisingly allowed him a free passage to breach their defence.
But IOC soon learned at their peril that they cannot be complacent against their star-studded opponents, as India striker Shivendra Singh pulled one back in the 15th minute to set the stage for an engrossing contest.
Under pressure and with a reputation to protect, Air India battled hard to keep their hopes alive while choosing to attack.
They should have reduced the margin in the 18th minute, when they earned a free-hit. But a selfish Shivendra Singh hit wide after being put through by Dhanraj Pillay, who raced to the goalmouth in anticipation of Shivendra's pass.
Star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh enhanced Air India's hopes with a firm push to reduce the margin in the 19th minute before former international Sameer Dad missed the equaliser three minutes from the lemon break.
But IOC came back to swell their tally as Hamza Mujtaba finished a brilliant effort by former international Prabhjot Singh who sent in a long diagonal pass from the right to Chinkara, who wisely switched the ball to Mujtaba for a 4-2 lead at half time.
A determined Air India refused to be perturbed by the two-goal deficit and struck back soon after the breather when they earned a 43rd minute penalty stroke. Sandeep Singh fired in the second of his four goals to bring his team back into the match.
And when Sandeep struck the equaliser in the 52nd minute off their fourth penalty corner, it inspired Air India, even as IOC's confidence was briefly hit.
Sandeep's outstanding performance almost overshadowed IOC goalkeeper Baljit Singh's brilliant performance as the custodian effected innumerable saves, especially off Sandeep's drag flicks.
But Sandeep had the final say as he fired home the winner off Air India's seventh and last penalty corner to end the contest in pulsating fashion.
Air India received Rs 1.5 lakh for their effort, while IOC had to be content with Rs 75,000.
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