If the opening day’s matches were any indication, this Nehru Hockey tournament will be no cakewalk for any team. Both the matches on Tuesday — Indian Air Force XI beat Combined Universities 7-5 and SAI XI beat CRPF XI 9-8 — went into tie-break, the second ending in sudden death.
The start, though, was a lot different. SAI took the lead in the 19th minute through skipper Yudhvir Singh’s brilliant strike from the left flank that found CRPF custodian Robindro rooted, it was more a lucky strike than team effort. The two teams missed chances galore and, making one wonder if they competing to see who could miss more.
The second half was more competitive, with CRPF showing greater determination. They earned a penalty corner in the 38th minute but Simon Tirkey shot wide.
SAI doubled the lead in the 52nd minute through Sashi Kant, after he dodged past a defender and then wrong-footed the goalkeeper. The diminutive striker was, in fact, the most impressive player on view, creating chances and dodging the opposition defence with ease, but he failed to find any support.
Balkar Singh reduced the margin through a penalty corner in the 54th minute, but there was more to come from Sashi Kant. The 55th minute saw him left unmarked inside the striking circle and CRPF duly paid the price as he sounded the board with a reverse-flick.
But just as SAI appeared to have wrapped up the match, they relaxed a bit too much and CRPF were soon all over them. Captain Mukesh Kumar made it 2-3 and Rajesh Kumar converted a last-minute penalty-corner to take the game into extra time.
The excitement seemed to be just about building up, and it reached a climax when two players from each team — including the captains — were sent off following a slight altercation.
The game went into sudden death and it was finally left to Sudhir Bara of CRPF to produce a result — with his miss. The game having lasted more than two hours, the players were more relieved than happy when it was all over.
Earlier, IAF won 7-5 against CU after the teams were tied 2-2 at the end of extra time. Jerome Kujur and Shahnawaz Alam scored for IAF while Jagjit Singh and Gurpreet Singh scored for the Universities in regulation time.
Wednesday’s matches: ONGC vs Indian Navy (1 pm), Western Railway vs Shahdara Heroes (3 pm).