Ten-man Rajasthan edged Jammu & Kashmir 1-0 in their Cluster IV qualifying match at the Howrah stadium on Sunday.
Having been drubbed 13-0 by Manipur in their previous match, Rajasthan did well to turn things around. They ended their campaign with three points but the heavy defeat to Manipur means they have little chance to qualify for the pre-quarterfinals.
Goalkeeper Pratap Singh was the standout performer with a number of brilliant saves to thwart Jammu & Kashmir. More admirable was his courage when he chose to continue playing despite sustaining a deep gash on his forehead after he collided with an opponent player for an aerial ball.
Rajasthan went a man down when on the hour-mark, Samid Hussain received a second yellow for a nasty tackle. But Jammu & Kashmir, despite a considerable height advantage, did not get the all-important goal.
Repeated fluffs by striker Imran Wangnoo did not help their cause either. Rajasthan struck completely against the run of play when in the 83rd minute, Rahul Gurjar slalomed past two defenders and scored with a brilliant left-footer.
Jammu & Kashmir desperately pressed for the equaliser. In the 88th minute, stopper Wasim Feroz missed the easiest of chances when with only the Rajasthan goalkeeper to beat, he shot straight into Pratap.
In Cluster III, a much-improved Pondicherry notched up their first win of the tournament beating Gujarat 2-1. They had lost 0-7 to Punjab in their opening encounter.
Pondicherry drew first blood through Vinod Kumar but Gujarat striker Dipesh Pun equalised before half-time. Manikandon scored the winner in the 73rd minute.
In another Cluster III match, Punjab beat Nagaland 1-0. Following an early goal by JCT striker Balwant Singh, Punjab successfully held on to their advantage.
With six points from two matches, they are the leading contenders from the cluster to qualify for the next round.