Panjab FA are through to the 2016 conIFA World Football Cup semi-finals after Thursday night’s 3-2 victory over Western Armenia at the Dinamo Stadium, Sukhum in Abkhazia.
A first-half hat-trick from Darlington goalscorer Amar Purewal, his second in successive tournament games, proved enough to see off a spirited Armenian comeback. Panjab went three goals ahead before the interval, before being pegged back and surviving a nerve-wracking last five minutes.
Ugly scenes followed the final whistle, instigated by the losing side, but stewards were at hand to eventually separate oppositions players and staff.
Rajpal Virk was the only omission from the squad, following the torn thigh muscle he suffered against Somaliland.
Purewal found the net after just a minute of play, running onto Amarvir Sandhu’s low through-ball and chipping calmly over the onrushing West-Arm goalkeeper. A stunning start.
West-Arm recovered well thereafter, though, and created a host of half chances, but none able to trouble the Panjab defence. A few unmet crosses into the box, and shots from just outside comfortably collected by Panjab keeper Ash Malhotra, summed up the losing side’s rather timid first-half display in front of goal.
Reuben Hazell’s men found the second on 35 minutes. After Sandhu blasted just wide from far out, Mohamed Omar Riaz drove toward the box and slipped in Purewal, who controlled in his stride from the edge of the area and poked home beneath the keeper from eight yards.
And Purewal seemingly killed off the game just on half-time, allowing Gurjit Singh’s defence-splitting through-ball to run through his legs and around the last defender, running onto it and finishing with another dink from 12 yards.
West-Arm started the second half brighter, upping their penetration on goal, however, it was Panjab who came closest to finding a fourth. Jhai Dhillon’s corner was headed up and fell onto Jaskaran Basi’s boot, who struck just wide to the keeper’s bottom-right.
Gaz Singh then found himself deep-left inside the opposition area, but unusually struggled to retrieve the ball out his own feet quick enough to pose any real threat.
An had hour gone without any clear West-Arm threat on goal, the warning signs were visible, just without any end product. But they finally found themselves back in the game after 67 minutes with a jinking run from striker Avolian, who glided past one and evaded two sliding blocks inside the area before slotting low and hard into the net.
From then on, the trailing side started attacking with more intent. With the card count increasing for both sides, Panjab began to concede more and more free-kicks in dangerous territories – which they eventually paid for. In the 78th minute, a sublime set-piece from the right hand-side of the area was swung into the top-left corner.
Keeper Malhotra was then replaced by Raajan Gill after picking up a knock just before the goal.
Intense moments followed, pressure piled on Panjab, balls into the box, more free-kicks were conceded in dangerous areas, and the game became feistier the longer it went on. An apparent forearm to the face of Dhillon was also seemingly overlooked by a nearby watching assistant referee.
Panjab survived one final free-kick in the 96th minute to secure entry to the semi-finals of the competition. Their dream lives on, and they face Padania in the final four at the Dinamo Stadium.
Take a look at the Group D Goal Highlights from all the group fixtures.
Article by Rajen Bagri – @rbagri94