Mohammed Omar Riaz’s 76th minute winner earned Panjab FA a place in the 2016 conIFA World Football Cup Final, when they broke 10-man Padania hearts in a 1-0 win at Dinamo Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The midfielder headed in Amar Purewal’s rebounded effort to sink the opponents in a defensively contested semi-final tie in Sukhum. Before Padania’s Prandelli saw two yellow cards in quick succession five minutes from the end to leave his side a player short.
Ash Malhotra joined torn-thigh-muscle-stricken Raj Virk on the sidelines after sustaining injury in a 50/50 collision against Western Armenia in the quarters. Raajan Gill stepped in.
For the first 20 minutes there was a sense both sides were warily feeling each other out, it took the 23rd minute to note anything of real incident. Gurjit Singh picked up Aaron Minhas’ short free-kick and lashed the post from 30 yards – the closest either side came to a goal before the interval.
Minutes later, the team from Northern Italy tried at the other end, but failed to steer a header inside the box on target.
On a handful of occasions, both teams found themselves deep in opposition territory throughout the first half, but would eventually be overcrowded by defensive numbers.
Padania finished the slightly stronger with an array of successive corners in the final few minutes of the half.
The losing side’s best chance of the game fell in the 50th minute, a low cross from the left-hand byline, met at the near post, was somehow directed beyond the far stick to keep Panjab’s third clean sheet of the tournament in tact.
Gaz Singh came closer than his first effort when he struck again from far out to force a smart tip over the bar from Padania’s goalkeeper.
But Reuben Hazell’s side finally found the breakthrough 14 minutes from time when Riaz’s drive to the edge of the area was laid off to captain Amarvir Sandhu, whose eye-of-the-needle pass through to Purewal was chipped onto the bar, for Riaz to seize upon and turn in the winner.
The opposition coach will be disappointed with his side’s lack of intent thereafter, Gill was rarely troubled before the end. Of course, this was also due to the stalwart centre-backs in front of him, Arjun Purewal and Jaskaran Basi were rarely beaten in any aspect of the game.
The game turned a tad sour minutes from the end, when Prandelli feuded with Jhai Dhillon. After being booked for a foul on the halfway line, the former foolishly picked up a second yellow a minute later, and the players had to be separated by teammates and staff.
Panjab managed to see out five minutes added time with a keep-ball session, and the referee’s whistle blew to instigate pitch celebrations, tears down chairman Harpreet Singh’s face, and confirm their final date on Sunday. They will play either Northern Cyprus or hosts Abkhazia, who contest the second semi-final later on Saturday, in a bid to lift the World Football Cup.
Article by Rajen Bagri – @rbagri94