Mumbai: Defending champions Air India despite clinching a win from their last league match bowed out of the competition failing to qualify for the semi-final round of the 10th PMC Bank-Guru Tegh Bahadur Gold Cup All India Hockey Tournament. Air India, who are also the reigning National champions, defeated Tamil Nadu XI 5-4 in the final Group-A league match, at the MHAL stadium, Churchgate, on Thursday.
But their victory margin was not good enough to ensure them of a passage to the penultimate round. Air India faced a tall order requiring to win by a clear six-goal margin to edge out Army XI on goal difference. Both, Air India and Army XI, who lost to group toppers Western Railway 3-5 earlier in the afternoon, finished with an equal number of four points each. But the armymen with a better goal-differential of plus 3 as compared to Air India’s minus 1, qualified for the semis along with Western who had finished at the top with seven points.
Air India went all out but wasted an early chance to open the scoring. Joga Singh broke through the rival defence but failed to get past Tamil Nadu goalkeeper Udhaya Kumar in the seventh minute. Tamil Nadu launched a swift counter-attack and captain V. Raja sounded the boards with a crisp angular drive from the right of the circle to put his team ahead.
Air India regrouped and did not take much time to cancel out the deficit when international Sameer Dad beat goalkeeper Kumar from an acute angle in the 16th minute. Four minutes later, Air India drag flicker Gaganpreet Singh with a low powerful push beat Tamil Nadu goalkeeper Kumar to take the lead.