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ONGC National Football League crown a draw

Goan outfit Dempo and Air India settled for a 2-2 draw while vying for the coveted ONGC National Football League crown on Sunday, reports Abhijeet Kulkarni.

sports Updated: May 07, 2007 15:39 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Abhijeet Kulkarni

Dempo Chairman Srinivas Dempo had specially flown down to Mumbai to see his team bag the coveted ONGC National Football League crown for the second time in three years.

And the Goan outfit looked like they had touched the summit for the major part of Sunday's 17th round encounter against Air India. But two defensive lapses — on either side of the break — not only forced them to settle for a 2-2 draw but also put the celebrations on hold for at least a week.

The draw also threw a lifeline for defending champions Mahindra United, who are the only challengers for the title now. But the Red Devils, who trail Dempo by six points with a game in hand, will have to win their remaining two matches — against East Bengal on May 12 and Mohammedan Sporting on May 18 — with a huge margin as they have an inferior goal average.

In fact, even if Mahindras overturn the deficit, their efforts would come to nothing if Dempo even manage to draw against Mohun Bagan at home on May 18.

However, Dempo would have preferred to seal the fate of the 11th edition of the competition on Sunday itself. And that showed in the way they approached the game with the midfield pushing deep into the opponents half.

And their efforts bore fruit as early as in the 12th minute when Anthony Pereira directed in a flick from Climax Lawrence off a throw in from Valeriano Rebelo.

Dempo skipper Roberto Silva almost doubled the lead in the 28th minute but Air India custodian Raju Ekka managed to somehow stop his dipping free kick — awarded after Uttam Singh brought down their Nigerian striker Ranty Martins on the top of the box.

Even then the visitors looked in complete command as they dominated the possession till four minutes later Majek Bolaji made a horrendous mistake. The Nigerian defender completely missed the cross from Napolean Singh inside the six-yard box and Bashiru Abbas was perfectly placed to direct the ball in the right hand corner.

Dempo, however, would have gone into the break with the lead as Rebelo and Pereira once again combined to create an opening in the 35th minute. Rebelo's measured through pass left Pereira with only the advancing goal keeper to beat but the experienced Suley Mussa raced back in time to make a goal line save.

The second half also began on a similar note with Dempo pushing forward in numbers while Air India looking for counter attack. And the visitors managed to regain the lead in the 63rd minute as Ranty tapped in a cross from Pereira.

It looked all over for Air India and for that matter Mahindra United till Silva, popularly known as Beto, unnecessarily broke the momentum of his team and was even booked for his delaying tactics.

The Brazilian was looking to waste some time after he was substituted in the 86th minute. That resulted in some heated arguments between the Dempo and Air India players. And before the Dempo defence could settle down the hosts found the equaliser off a throw in.

The defence was caught completely unaware by the deep throw of Uttam. Skipper Paresh Shivalkar simply lobbed the ball back inside the six-yard box for Mussa to head and Santosh Koli had a simple job of deflecting the ball inside.

First Published: May 07, 2007 15:30 IST