It was perhaps the reality check Indian Airlines needed to realise that the days are past when, to win a match, all they needed was to turn up. Against a bunch of attacking, spirited young boys from Punjab National Bank in the Nehru Hockey tournament here on Monday, the team of veterans was too slow, too late, and too much off-target to pose a serious threat.
In contrast, the PNB boys were impressive in their planned attacks and co-ordinated defence as they entered the quarterfinals with this win. PNB, who largely comprised the Delhi team that finished runners-up at the National Championships, gave IA no space. In the 10th minute, IA's Sandeep Michael failed to reach the ball after being put through by Dhanraj Pillay. It was perhaps a sign of things to come. In the very next minute, a penalty-corner was slotted in by Jatinder Kumar to give PNB the lead.
Three minutes later, Damandeep Singh ran with the ball all the way from the halfline and, combining with Parmod Kumar, finally passed it to Navdeep Singh who shot it over. PNB earned a free hit and this time Navdeep made no mistake to make it 2-0. The very next minute, Brojen Singh reduced the margin for IA. Then a fiercely-contested penalty stroke to IA in the 25th minute was converted by captain Samir Dad to equalise.
But if there were any hopes of the 'favourites' beginning to get into their rhythm, it took only a few minutes for them to shatter. For a team that doesn't get provoked easily, the stroke was perhaps the impetus PNB needed, if any. Having stopped play for almost five minutes in protest, they resumed the second half with renewed determination and produced a goalfest that left IA stranded.
For almost the entire second half, the game was restricted to the IA half, with PNB attacks coming in waves. PNB missed two goals in two minutes (39th and 40th) when combined moves by Damandeep Singh and Parmod Kumar only narrowly missed the target. It seemed it was only a matter of time before PNB went ahead, which they did in the 45th minute when Damandeep passed to Navdeep at the top of the striking circle, who sent it to Bikash Toppo, and the latter made no mistake.
A minute later, Sat Pal made it 4-2 through a penalty corner; the 51st minute saw an unmarked Damandeep in front of the goalmouth, put through by Harvinder Singh from top of the D, to make it 5-2. Michael made it 3-5 for IA but it was too late in the day.
The best goal of the match came in the 67th minute when Damandeep, Parmod and Bikash combined for a brilliant counter-attack all the way from the IA half to round off their tally. What was spectacular about the goal was the speed with which the thing was done - something associated with IA not long ago - and the well-crafted planning that left IA defenceless.
One thing: In an ageing IA line-up, the 38-year-old Dhanraj Pillay still remains impressive with his ball-control. Sadly, his legendary speed and strength were conspicuous by their absence.
In other matches, BPCL also qualified for the quarterfinals after holding Namdhari XI to a 1-1 draw. Jatinderpal Singh scored for Namdharis while Sarabjit Singh equalised for BPCL. Karnataka XI beat SAI XI 4-2, Somanna scoring a brace and Aiyappa and Dinesh scoring once for the winners while Vivek and Sashi Kant were the scorers for SAI.
Tuesday's matches: Punjab Police vs Indian Oil (11 am), PSB vs SAI XI (1 pm), I-A vs BSF