Delhi crowned inaugural Swami Vivekananda U-20 Men’s NFC champions on penalties

Delhi were crowned the inaugural champions of the Swami Vivekananda U-20 Men’s National Football Championship, beating Karnataka 4-3 on penalties following a thrilling 3-3 draw after extra time, at the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama Ground in Narainpur, Chhattisgarh, on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

After 40 days of non-stop action in Narainpur involving 32 teams, Delhi came out on top after a memorable final, where they came from behind three times to take the game to penalties. Karnataka’s Ishaan Raghunanda and Delhi’s Sankhil Darpol Tuishang struck a brace each for their sides before the latter struck the winning penalty to crown Delhi the champions.

Delhi had the first real chance to take the lead in the third minute when captain Lamlallian ST won possession in the final third, ran into the box but dragged his effort wide.

Karnataka opened the scoring soon after in the 12th minute with Ishaan Raghunanda’s delicate finish. It started with a perfect long ball from Gautam Rajesh, which Raghunanda controlled with a great first touch. He made a couple of yards for himself, beating defender Kamginsei Touthang before tucking the ball into the far post with the outside of his boot.

Delhi responded with zeal, going all out in attack in search of the equaliser. In the 18th minute, Karnataka goalkeeper Sam George came to his side’s rescue as he made himself big to deny Ramesh Chhetri in a one-on-one situation from close range. But the Karnataka custodian couldn’t do anything about Delhi’s equalising goal which came in the 43rd minute via captain Lamlallian, leaving the second half nicely poised.

The intensity of the match remained high after the restart as both sides put bodies forward in a desperate hunt for the second goal. Karnataka were the ones who got it, and it took something special from Nithin Paul to help them regain the lead. Running out of options in the box, M Nihaar passed the ball back to Paul, who lashed a first-time shot with his left foot from 30 yards out. Even at full stretch, Delhi goalkeeper Karan Makkar was still miles away from the ball which landed into the top corner.

Unlike in the first half when Karnataka eased up after taking the lead, this time they started to assert their dominance. They would’ve doubled their advantage in the 67th minute had Makkar not pulled off a great double save in quick succession to deny Paul and Saikhom Borish Singh.

But one mistake in the Karnataka backline led to parity again in the 71st minute. As Arjun Gouda failed to clear a loose ball in the box, Delhi substitute Sankhil Darpol Tuishang pounced on it and squeezed it past George, who got a hand on the ball but not enough to keep it out.

Karnataka had the best chance of winning the match in normal time but the woodwork came to Delhi’s rescue. In the sixth minute of added time, Borish, from the edge of the box, side-footed a first-time shot straight onto the crossbar.

However, in the very first minute of extra time, Karnataka took the lead for the third time in the match. Raghunanda set up the pitch on fire again, as he did numerous times during the entire tournament. He spurted forward from the half-line, leaving several Delhi shirts in his wake with his fine dribbling skills, and just upon entering the box, he pulled the trigger with his left foot and lodged the ball into the far corner to make it 3-2.

Delhi had been matching Karnataka every step of the way in normal time and the script continued in extra time. They got their third equaliser in the 98th minute thanks to Tuishang again. Touthang whipped in a delightful curling cross from the left and the substitute forward leapt the highest and headed it in, leaving George rooted to his spot.

Karnataka got the early advantage in the penalty shoot-out too as Raghunanda converted and Lalmallian’s shot was saved by George. However, Delhi went on to score all four of their remaining penalties via Touthang, Akshay Raj Singh, Jajo Prashan and final hero Tuishang, while Karnataka fumbled with Gautam Rajesh hitting the crossbar and M Nihaar seeing his low shot saved by the fingertips of Makkar.

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