Air India edge out Army XI in shootout to regain Tegh Bahadur title

Mumbai: Star-studded Air India regained the Guru Tegh Bahadur Hockey title after seven years when they prevailed over defending champions Army XI 3-1 via the penalty shoot-out after the two teams were deadlocked goalless in regular play in the final here yesterday.

Holding a slight edge in the forays and in the number of chances they got, 2008 champions AI were again indebted to their experienced custodian Adrian D'Souza who got beaten only once out of four essays in the shoot-out after having done a commendable job earlier in regular play and yesterday in the semi finals against ONGC.

Fittingly the former India custodian got the player of the final award from the tournament's organisers - Mumbai Hockey Association Limited - at their Mahindra Stadium. In the shoot-out only Biraj Ekka managed to dodge his way around Olympian D'Souza and sound the board even as he blocked out essays from Army XI penalty takers Vishwa Thakur and Binay Bhengra while Rajnish Salaria hit over the bar.

AI were slightly better in the shoot-out. A B Cheeyanna, Vikas Pillay and Joga Singh - who scored the winning goal yesterday - were bang on target while Sumit Toppo and P R Aiyappa were foiled by Army custodian Najmudeen who had a good game and was also declared as the best goalkeeper in the tournament. The winning team got Rs 1.5 lakh while the runners-up received Rs 75,000.

But it was a disappointing final, especially considering that it was between a star-packed former champion oufit and the reigning champion side. The first half saw very few threats to the goal except on two occasions when Pawan Kumar of AI muffed reverse hits from close range, the second one especially a gilt-edged chance off a good through pass from Joga Singh.

AI squandered three penalty corner awards in the latter half when Najmudeen brought off good saves to foil seasoned internationals Arjun Halappa and Prabodh Tirkey. Bhengra twice got chances to score for the army men, but on both occasions his cleverly directed deflections from the right were cut off by AI's D'Souza.

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