Punjab started their title defence in the 63rd National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy on a disappointing note, going down 1-2 to former champions Manipur in a quarterfinal league match in Chennai on Tuesday.
In the other match of the day at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, traditional heavyweights Bengal had a narrow escape against Tamil Nadu, and had it not been for P.C. Lalumpuia's injury-time strike, the 29-time winners too would have met a fate similar to that of Punjab.
P.C. Riju put Tamil Nadu in the lead with a 40th minute strike before Lalumpuia equalised with a header.
Punjab, back-to-back-winners, had a similar start in the last edition too, going down to runners up Services in their first match.
After being at the receiving end of some early onslaught from Manipur, an unmarked Balwant Singh's well-directed header off a cross from the right gave Punjab the lead. Raju Mangarg and Subhash Singh, however, spoilt Punjab's plans.
Manipur had a chance as early as in the third minute, but Bishweshor Singh's powerful shot was taken care of by an alert Karanjit Singh, without whose efforts the margin of defeat would have been even more embarrassing for Punjab.
Ten minutes later, Subhash Singh's cross found an unmarked Joychandra Singh inside the box, but he shot over.
Reysiang Vashum, again unmarked in the danger zone, was presented with an opportunity, but Karanjit again came in the way, easily parrying away the midfielder's powerful left footer.
Manipur finally broke the shackles when Mangarg’s shot deflected off defender Sarbjeet Singh in the 30th minute, three minutes after Balwant's strike. Subhash could have made it 2-0 in favour of Manipur but his attempted chip from outside the box missed the target by a whisker.
The second half proved to be lucky for Manipur as the former champions went ahead within three minutes of kick-off.
Subhash's tap-in did the trick after Karanjit stopped Khangtan Paite's left footer.
Punjab had their share of chances in the second session, but Manipur had the last laugh.