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Assam Rifles shoot into main draw

Assam Rifles,the North-eastern regiment’s football team,executed their strategies to military precision against Simla Youngs and gunned down their opponents in their final qualifying match to enter the main draw of the Durand Cup.

Assam Rifles,the North-eastern regiment’s football team,executed their strategies to military precision against Simla Youngs and gunned down their opponents in their final qualifying match to enter the main draw of the Durand Cup.

N Jithin Singh — coach of Assam Rifles — controlled his battalion of players with accuracy to an overwhelming 4-1 win over home favourites Simla Youngs at the Ambedkar Stadium on Tuesday.

Simla Youngs were found wanting within the first 70 seconds of the match when a defensive lapse helped Rifles striker Thoi Thoiba Singh to find the back of the net. While it was nothing more than a feeble attempt on goal by the Riflemen,Youngs goalkeeper Gopal Singh misjudged the angled shot on target allowing Rifles to go up 1-0. A minute later,a low-lying corner was hammered in to the top of the net by midfielder Mekingai Kamei to put Rifles up 2-0 before the third minute of the match.

Shell-shocked by the early onslaught,Youngs kept giving away possession as the game remained restricted in their half with the opposition repeatedly aiming to increase the lead. As the pressure built on,a powerful cross by Kamei from the left flank sat up for Rifles central midfielder Akom Ao,who headed the ball behind a diving Gopal Singh to make it 3-0 before the 13th minute of the match.

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The rest of the first half went screless with Assam Rifles content to defend and keep rotating the ball. Struggling to plug the leaking defence,Youngs manager and coach Tushar Dev made two substitutions to the backline.

But the changes barely seemed to ruffle the attacking power of Rifles and Youngs were lucky not to have conceded more. Rifles were happy to run down the clock and didn’t look to increase the scoreline.

Without conviction,the few decent attempts they had on goal were not put away by their strikers. Youngs managed to create just a single attempt on goal late into the second half with a neat interchange of passes between four players starting from the middle of the park,which ended with a failed attempt on the Rifles goal.

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Forced to arrange a six-man wall to defend a free-kick just outside the box,Samson powered through the wall into the top-right corner and salvaged some pride for the home team with the solitary goal.

No let up
Less than 60 seconds later,Sinam Lokeshwar — the Rifles goalkeeper — was given a red card for handling the ball outside the box. But despite being down to 10 men,Rifles didn’t allow Samson to recreate the same magic second time around. Instead,two minutes from close,they finally decided to stop toying with the Simla Youngs defence and decided to pump yet another goal in to seal the matter. Left-back Hirojit KR’s goal sealed the game 4-1 and a place for Assam Rifles in the quarter-final stage of the Durand Cup.

Disappointed at not qualifying for the main draw of the Durand Cup after coming so close—Simla Youngs last played in the main round of the tournament in 1973—manager Dev blamed his strategy for the loss.

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“I believe that some of the tactics I employed were wrong. I take the blame for the loss,” he said,adding,“We lost the match in the first 10 minutes itself. I should not have played Gopal Singh as the goalkeeper,whose errors cost us. There was no turning back from there on.”

At the happier end of the result on Tuesday but pitted against heavyweight clubs like Sporting Clube de Goa and Mahindra United in Group A of the main draw,Jithin Singh admitted his team have their work cut out to make further progress.

“It is great that we managed to make it this far,” Jithin told Sportline. “It is not going to be easy,but we have beaten Mahindra United in the quarter-final of the 2006 edition of this tournament,” he said,adding that their previous results will ensure there were no nerves against the big teams.

Rifles will play their first match against Sporting Clube de Goa,who knocked them out in the semi-finals of the tournament in 2006. Ao,the most experienced player in the Rifles camp,believes that they are up to the challenge this time around.

“When we reached the semi-finals in 2006,nobody expected us to be there,” Ao said,adding,“But now,we are up to the challenge. Having played on loan at Mohun Bagan in 2004 and 2006,I am more capable of handling the pressure of big games. We will be playing for revenge.”

First published on: 09-09-2009 at 04:32:46 am
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