PANJIM/ NAVELIM: Mizoram and Punjab scored wins in their opening matches of the final round of the 71st Santosh Trophy Football Championships, held at the Bambolim Sports Complex and Navelim Ground respectively.
At the Bambolim Sports Complex, Mizoram took on Maharashtra in a clash of former winners. The North-Easterners who were winners in the 2013-14 season put out a strong side with coach Lalsangzuala Hmar giving starts to four U-21 players.
Mizoram drew the first blood in the 7th minute when a long ball from the midfield went over the Maharashtra defence leading to confusion between the defenders and the Maharashtra shot stopper Harshad Meher. Mizoram defender Lalchhuanawma Vanchhawng took advantage of the indecision and tapped the ball in an open net. However, four minutes later Maharashtra got back in the game with the equaliser coming from the boots of young Rahul Das. After a cross from the left, Rahul latched on to the rebound and volleyed home to restore parity and keep Maharashtra on level terms. There after both teams played a cagey affair preferring not to give the opponents any space. The Maharashtra defence though were kept on their toes with some swift moves from the Mizoram attackers although there were no clear cut chances for them.
A couple of minutes before the lemon break, Mizoram went back into the lead when striker Lalrinpuia slammed home from close range giving no chance to the Maharashtra keeper. The match read 2-1 in favour of Mizoram at half time.
Ten minutes after the break, in their quest to find the equaliser Maharashtra left gaping holes in their defence allowing Lalsangbera Sangbera to latch on to a pass from Mizoram midfielder Lalfakzuala Fakzuala, dribble past a couple of defenders from the left and put the ball in the back of the net giving a two goal lead to Mizoram.
Maharashtra coach, Godfrey Pereira then made a couple of changes but it could not help Maharashtra get a goal back in the process.
Mizoram controlled the game with possession play and hardly let Maharashtra any time and space on the ball.
In the end it was a comfortable win for the North Eastern side who earned valuable three points from the encounter. They next take on Punjab at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco in two days time.
For Maharashtra though, a win in their next game would be imperative to get their momentum back on track as they look to repeat their title winning march in 2000.
-Punjab got the better of Services 2-1-
At Navelim ground, one of the favourites for this year’s title, Punjab got the better of Services 2-1 in the other match played at the Navelim Ground.
Punjab took the lead through Rajbir Singh in the 13th minute of play, heading in a beautiful cross from skipper Harshdeep Singh off a free kick.
The game stayed that way till half time. After the break, Services came out with renewed vigour and their persistence paid off when Rajesh Soosnayakam equalised in the 58th minute with a brilliant shot from outside the box which beat the Punjab goalkeeper Paramjit Singh all ends up.
However their joy was short lived when just a minute later Punjab regained the lead through another goal from Rajbir Singh who slotted home from close range. Punjab held on to the lead winning their opening game in the group. They next play Mizoram day after tomorrow at Vasco while Railways play Kerala on the same day at Bambolim.