Gritty ten men of ONGC overcome Air India on penalties to lift the 108th Nadkarni Cup

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) were crowned champions of the 108th Nadkarni Cup, as their ten men beat Air India 5-4 on penalties after a goalless ninety minutes in the final played at the RCF Sports Club in Chembur. ONGC produced an inspired performance to hold Air India after being down to ten men for a good part of the game.

Air India buoyed by their crushing of Mumbai Customs in the semi-finals started brightly as they almost scored in the 9th minute when T. Jonychand Singh’s shot went inches wide of the left hand side post. Two minutes later Karan Atwal of ONGC saw the first yellow of the game after he tackled rashtly trying to stop Air India’s growing momentum.

But Air India were almost shocked at the other end two minutes later when their goalkeeper Vian Joseph collected bravely after a confusion in the Air India defence which almost led to the ONGC attacker pouncing.

Air India were making ONGC work very hard to get the ball off them with their slick passing and movement as they created problems for the ONGC backline. Ubaid C.K, the ONGC keeper was called into action in the 30th minute when he did well to keep out T. Jonychand’s effort. Four minutes later, the ONGC defence is tested again, this time by Nikhil Poojary who delivers an awkward cross into the ONGC penalty area, but the ONGC rearguard manage to deal with it.

Air India’s Onkar Singh saw his shot deflected over the crossbar for a corner in the 38th minute. From the resultant corner, Air India get a header on target from point blank range but it is unlawfully saved off the line by F. Lalmuan Puia who clearly uses his hands to prevent the ball from going into the net.

The referee correctly pointed to the spot and rightly sent the ONGC No.18 off for deliberate handling of the ball. This presented a great opportunity for Air India to set up an uphill task for ONGC, but Vijith Shetty’s spot kick was brilliantly saved by Ubaid C.K who bailed his team out of a tight corner.

Such a relief for ONGC, but they still had a huge amount of work to do after being down to ten men. Air India continued to dominate as the referee blew for half time.
Air India had a very good first half, dominating proceedings and reducing the opponent to ten men. But they would be disappointed not to go into the interval with a goal in front. ONGC on the other hand had their work cut out and needed lift both their spirits and performance if they were to have any chance of winning the contest.
ONGC came into the second half with a game plan and it seemed to be working as they managed to stem the flow of attacks and stifle the opponent. ONGC were working very hard off the ball as they managed to break anything which Air India created.

ONGC had a threat upfront in Enock Annan who was targeted by ONGC who were looking to play long at every opportunity. Their efforts were rewarded with a rare corner for them in the 64th minute but they failed to convert. Air India had lost their first half swagger as they never seemed to recover from that penalty miss in the first half.

Vivek Kaira of ONGC put the ball in the back of the net in the 67th minute but it was adjudged offside. Air India almost conjured up a perfect opening two minutes later when T. Jonychand Singh failed to control a cross from the right flank.

As the game approached its closing stages, ONGC sat further deep in their half reducing Air India to very few chances in the second half. But they had five more minutes to hang on to as the fourth official’s board signaled so.

It was ONGC though who won a corner in the first minute of stoppage time, but nothing came of it. It was all Air India for the remainder of the game as they peppered the ONGC goal with shots, crosses and lobs but the ONGC keeper Ubaid C.K dealt with everything that was thrown at him, including a last minute header which he saved brilliantly diving down to his right.

That was the last action of the game as the 108th Nadkarni Cup was to be decided from the penalty spot. It was a great effort from ONGC in the second half to bring Air India to penalties where their numerical advantage was nullified.
ONGC went first in the shootout as Karan Atwal stepped up and converted. It was a close call as the keeper got his hand to the ball but it had way too much power as it sailed into the right hand side top corner. Air India were level again as Vijith Shetty made up for his missed penalty as he send the keeper in the opposite direction to score.

Next up was Vivek Kaira of ONGC, who shot off target to as the scores remained level. Air India took the lead as Raynier Fernandes converted after he sent the ONGC keeper the wrong way. Air India led 2-1 with three kicks each left.

Bhola Prasad stepped up for ONGC and scored, as he fired in the top right corner. Vian Joseph had no chance despite going the right way. Next to take the kick for Air India was Onkar Singh who converted but was fortunate as it somehow escaped the grasp of Ubaid C.K who had guessed correctly.
Nitesh Monde leveled the shootout at 3-3 after a brilliantly taken penalty into the roof of the net, left the keeper with no chance. Next for Air India was substitute Praveen Sharma whose spot kick was nicely saved by Ubaid h.K, but his joy was short lived as referee disallowed the save as he felt the ONGC keeper was way too ahead of the line. The penalty was retaken but Praveen Sharma failed to convert again as he shot his spot kick wide.

ONGC were back in front as Enock Annan dispatched his penalty in the bottom right corner. There was huge pressure on up stepping Air India No.2 Ashkar C.V who coolly converted to bring us to sudden death.

After a week of breathtaking footballing drama, it was down to who blinked first between the finest of the lot, who surpassed all hurdles for that moment of glory and on the cusp of which all the margins for error had vanished leaving the duo, in front of them one final hurdle.

Up stepped substitute Naresh Aula for ONGC, who did his job and converted to put ONGC on the brink yet again. Pravin Jadhav had the responsibility to keep his side in the contest as he stepped up only to hit the left hand side post and send the ONGC camp into delirium.
The marathon had finally ended and although depleted, ONGC were crowned champions at the end of a dramatic afternoon at the RCF Sports Club.

ONGC lifted the prestigious Nadkarni Cup trophy for the first time in their history and were rewarded with cash prize of rupees One Lakh. ONGC showed their mettle at various stages in the tournament and thoroughly deserved to win the tournament brilliantly hosted by RCF and even more fantastically looked after by the referees and match commissioners Mr. S.S. Shetty and Mr. Sengupta.

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