Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
In Monday's semifinals at the Shivaji Stadium, Indian Airlines trounced Tamil Nadu XI 6-1, while Punjab Police got in two late second half goals to get past Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) 2-0.
Indian Airlines faced no opposition worth the name from Tamil Nadu XI. The inexperienced Tamil Nadu defenders left too many gaps in the rear to be able to make a match of it. For men like Dhanraj Pillay and Mukesh Kumar the task was thus made simpler.
The one-goal lead at the break should at least have been doubled by the Airlines had not Arjun Halappa muffed a penalty stroke just before the interval. He had provided the lead in the 15th minute when, in a melee, he pushed home off a pass from Dhanraj.
Dhanraj was the man who earned the penalty stroke as he was pushed by goalkeeper Natarajan. He was again the forward to earn the second `stroke' for Airlines, 10 minutes from the end, when Natarajan, charging up to foil a speedy thrust by the star striker only managed to slide and trip him. Halappa made no mistake this time to make it 4-1.
Before that Dilip Tirkey converted a penalty corner (2-0) and Mukesh Kumar tapped in a rebound off the goalkeeper after a run and hard shot by Hari Prasad.
Prabhakaran's fine goal at the other end, cutting into the `D' in a flash and aiming to a corner, forced the Airlines to look out for more goals. And it got them, too. Tirkey made it 5-1 and Dhanraj after a passing bout with Vikram Pillay rounded off the scoring five minutes from the hooter.
BPCL was inexplicably subdued in the second match of the day. For all its midfield domination, the ball hardly moved into the rival circle in the first half except through long-hit clearances or the odd counter attack.
On the other hand, Punjab Police looked threatening in the frontline with Tejbir Singh doing the bulk of the work. Gagan Ajit Singh preferred the wings, probably as a ploy to escape the attention of Len Aiyappa, while Baljit Singh Dhillon was only used sparingly.
Yet, penalty corners came at regular intervals for Punjab Police, though without success till the dying minutes when Dhillon drag-flicked the seventh and last award to sound the boards. That was the second goal for the policemen. Tejbir had scored the first in the 24th minute of the second half, putting his stick out for a lucky deflection into the net off a Pradeep Singh free hit.
BPCL woke up all to late. But there were chances in the last 10 minutes, Amar Aiyamma messing one up with a weak push and then finding goalkeeper Harpreet Singh with a reverse hit. In between, Len Aiyappa sent the second penalty corner wide, just as he had done with the first in the opening half.
The lack of urgency on the part of the BPCL players towards the closing stages was baffling. Even when they were down by a goal, with a few minutes still left, the sight of few players passing the ball around near the rival 25-yard-line might have given a different picture had someone walked in just then.
It was not Sabu Varkey's day and after a promising beginning, Bipin Fernandez also faded away, leaving BPCL with no one in particular to fashion an attack. Varkey's last-ditch efforts were futile.
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