Air India survive a late scare as they overcome KSA to reach the Quarter Finals of the Nadkarni Cup

Air India made heavy weather of what was a comfortable afternoon as two goals late in the first half had put Air India in control before a goal four minutes from time for the Karnataka Sporting Association (KSA) set up a nervy finish. Air India held on to make the last eight of the Nadkarni Cup 2014.

Air India were the better team early on, gaining control of the possession and building up their attack patiently. They almost profited in the 5th minute when Anees K. almost got on the end of Mervin Stephen’s cross. Three minutes later front man Siddharth Nayak ran at the defence, KSA managed to hault his progress but at the expense of a corner.

Air India almost scored from the play resulting from this corner as Anees K. headed wide after Siddharth Nayak had headed a cross back in his direction. Air India were very much on top as their front three were causing KSA all sorts of problems with their crisp, clever and quick play.

KSA had to wait for the 18th minute for their first chance and it was a golden one as Nigerian striker Avihi Uchela found space and his shot hit the inner side of the bar, but to his misfortune it rolled away from the goal line before being cleared by the Air India defender. It was a warning  sign for the Air India defence about the threat posed by men in red & black.

Three minutes later, KSA again threatened when attacker Roger Sam latched on to a loose ball and burst away on the right flank but his shot was well blocked by the Air India defence.

Two minutes later, Air India were again asking questions at the KSA defenders after bombarding their penalty box with a series of crosses. But KSA had the answers as the game remained deadlocked. Air India had a good chance in the 26th minute when Siddharth Nayak was played in by Anees K. who hit his shot in the ground allowing Kishen Sulegai to collect it with ease.

As the game crossed the half hour mark, a couple of injury lay offs took the spice out of the game as the chances dried up. Both the teams were looking to consolidate after a stop start pattern to the game. In the 35th minute, it was that duo again for Air India as Siddharth Nayak headed wide after being found by a beautiful cross from Anees K.

Siddharth Nayak again found space inside the penalty box as he unleashes a shot from close range, but KSA goalkeeper Kishen Sulegai is up to the task as he parries the shot wide before the KSA defender clears the danger. Air India were tightening the screws as the half drew to the close but KSA held firm.

But it was not long before Air India broke the KSA resilience after as Siddharth Nayak found Mervin Stephen who skillfully lobbed the ball over the KSA goalkeeper into the far corner as Air India took the lead. It was an absolutely amazing finish from the Air India No. 9 Mervin Stephen  and the way the game had gone it needed that bit of quality to make the difference.

The goal came as a huge boost for Air India, as they peppered the KSA goal winning a corner three minutes into first half stoppage time. It was a huge blow for KSA as Air India converted the set piece through defender Wayne Vaz who headed home from close range as Kishen Sulegai’s attempt to collect the corner failed after he collided with his own defender.

An absolute catastrophe for KSA as they left themselves a mountain to climb in the second half against the Elite Division’s defending champions. It was important for KSA to get a spell of possession going their way which did not happen in the first half.

But there no signs of that at least in the opening minutes of the half as Air India bossed the possession again. Nine minutes into the restart, Siddharth Nayak was involved again as he miscontrolled a cross from the left, allowing Kishan Sulegai to pick up the pieces. He was forced into another good save a minute later. The KSA goalkeeper was having a busy afternoon.

KSA made a substitution in the 64th minute after failing to get any kind of foothold in the game. KSA’s Tarique Ansari has a shot on goal after Air India fail to clear their lines two minutes later. Three minutes later KSA almost restoring parity Ryan K. is inches off from making a telling contact to a Valentine Perreira free kick.

Air India win a free kick just outside the box which is taken by substitute Vijith Shetty after a couple of clever dummies. He is inches over the crossbar as KSA remain in the hunt with just 15 minutes plus stoppage time left to play. Air India were controlling the game, keeping the ball well, frustrating KSA as time was running out for them.

Air India almost make it 3-0 in the 80th minute when a late run is picked up by the Air India winger but the midfielder’s header is brilliantly parried on to the crossbar and over by the KSA goalkeeper. He was keeping KSA in the hunt as he produced another fine save to deny Raynier Fernandes who found space to shoot after a neat one two with his striker.

There are shouts for a penalty, five minutes from time KSA believe Avihi Uchela’s shot hit the Air India defenders’ hand. But the referee waves off the appeals. A minute later a long ball creates confusion in the Air India defence as they fail to clear the ball and it falls to striker Avihi Uchela who hits it first time and his shot rebounds in of the post to give KSA hope.

Uchela’s goal sets up a grand stand finish as, Air India had four more minutes plus stoppage time to hold on to their lead which had been halved. Air India held their nerve as they edged past KSA into the Quarter Finals where they will face PIFA Colaba.

It was fairly comfortable for Air India, until KSA struck late on to give them a scare, but overall Air India deserved the victory for bossing the game for long periods.






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