By Mihik Agrawal
A late surge by Udaigiri was not sufficient to overcome a 2 goal deficit, as Kumaon put one foot in the semifinals with a 2-1 win. It was the first of the two hugely entertaining fixtures of this pool, with each of the 4 teams having a chance to join Satpura in the semis if they won by a good margin. Kumaon and Girnar were tied on 5 points each, Nilgiri on 4 and Udai on 3; all with a game in hand.
Udai needed to win by a margin of 3 goals at least to progress, while Kumaon just needed to win, and hope Girnar did not succeed them on goals scored if it won against Nilgiri.
The game kicked off in style with Kumaon trying hard to grab the opening goal quickly with great attacking play. A blackout after 5 minutes though resulted in both teams losing momentum. The game resumed with Udai trying to attack through the wily Shouvik, who couldn’t find much space because of the tight marking by the Kumaon defence. Kumaon had the first real chance, when in the 11th minute, a penetrating pass by Ankit found Marcus, who’s first time shot was saved well by KK. 4 minutes later, Kumaon grabbed a goal in astounding fashion. Ashim played a long ball from 30 yards across the field, but it curled towards goal, and the keeper did not react to catch it. The ball pinged the crossbar and then rebounded off the line. The decision to award the goal was controversial, with the referee hesitating but then adhering to the linesman’s call, ignoring the protests of the Udai players. Ankit went for the kill again but was denied by a great last ditch sliding tackle by Nitish. The Eagles displayed some good possession play in the last 5 minutes but couldn’t test the Kumaon keeper much as the first half ended.
Kumaon scored a second with a sublime counter-attacking move 5 minutes in the second half, when Sahil played a great through ball from the defence to Marcus, who unselfishly cut it back for Ankit, who only had the keeper to beat. They almost put the game to bed when a superb freekick in the 41st minute by Ashim found the head of Harsh Sarda, who had made a run from the edge of the box, but his looping header went over the bar. Against the odds, Udai pulled a goal back in the 44th minute. The Kumaon keeper Manas tried to clear a dangerous ball coming towards his goal, but it reached Namran, who fired a shot from 25 yards out into the top right corner. The goal gave Udai some belief, and they piled more pressure on the Kumaon backline. Late in the game, Udai demanded a penalty when Shouvik seemed to fall down from a challenge in the Kumaon box, but was denied, and the match soon ended. For Girnar, it remains a tough ask to qualify as they now have to score atleast 5 goals against Nilgiri to have a chance.