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Gold Cup: Semifinals: Army XI & Air India i (4/28/2009)
--K. Arumugam
Army XI, Air India set up title clash

Defending champions Army XI and Air India fashioned contrasting wins to set up a mouth-watering title clash, in the 47th Bombay Gold Cup Hockey Tournament at the MHA-Mahindra Stadium on Tuesday.

Army XI blanked Indian Oil 3-0 in the first semi-final, while Air India edged out 2004 winners Punjab & Sind Bank 8-6 via the tie-breaker in a thrilling second semi-final.

Air India, who won the Bombay Gold Cup in 2001 and 2002, trailed 1-3 at half time in a fast-paced encounter between formidable teams, before restoring parity at full-time to force the tie-breaker.

It was PSB who stunned their opponents with an early strike as Parminder Singh scored the first of his two goals in the seventh minute to sound a warning and initiate a slew of field goals.

But Guru Tegh Bahadur winners Air India quickly equalized when Joga Singh shot home the first of his two goals in the 13th minute to set the stage for a humdinger.

Parminder scored against the run of play in the 31st and Daler Singh fired home two minutes later to place the bankmen in a commanding position at the lemon break.

Resting on a 3-1 cushion, PSB relaxed their grip in an action packed second half as Air India, spearheaded by Dhanraj Pillay and Sameer Dad, effected a brilliant recovery with smart moves.

Air India were rewarded for their efforts as they surprised PSB with two quick strikes within six minutes.

Joga Singh reduced the margin in the 42nd minute and Birender Lakra fired in the equalizer in the 48th to force the tie-breaker where PSB’s Navpreet Singh bungled his stroke.

Army XI dominated the match after a passive challenge from Guru Tegh Bahadur runners-up Indian Oil. Much was expected from the latter with in-form strikers Hamza Mujtaba and Didar Singh, who impressed in the league. But IOC struggled to breach a tight Army defence that had done its homework.

While Army XI were in complete control while playing to a plan, they emphasized their authority with goals at regular intervals.

Eliazer Lakra fired the first of his two goals in the seventh minute to give Army XI a 1-0 lead at half time. Lakra struck again in the 43rd minute, though Indian Oil were still in the game.

But, when Sunil Ekka slotted in the third goal off a 51st minute penalty corner and Army XI leaving little room to manoeuvre, it signalled the end of IOC’s challenge.

The final will be played on Wednesday.

Results: Semi-finals: Army XI 3 (Eliazer Lakra 2, Sunil Ekka) bt Indian Oil 0; Air India bt Punjab & Sind Bank 8-6 via tie-breaker (FT: 3-3).

WEDNESDAY: 2.15 p.m. Indian Oil vs Punjab & Sind Bank (Hardlines Cup) 4.15 p.m. Army XI vs Air India

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