High-flying Air India win U-20 opener

Air India scored two second-half goals to earn a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Chirag United, Kerala in the opening round match of the Under-20 I-League, organised by WIFA and hosted at the Fr. Agnel's multipurpose stadium in Vashi, Navi Mumbai, today.

In a fast-paced and bruising encounter with chances few and far between, Air India's clinical finishing in front of goal was pivotal in securing the win. After a goalless first half, the deadlock was broken in the 52nd minute when Air India substitute Harold Fernandes sent a measured cross that striker Prakash Khatti coolly slotted home with a low shot past the rival keeper.

The Kerala team reacted immediately, creating a host of chances within a matter of minutes. Their persistence almost paid off when striker A V Girish's close range header seemed to be honing its way into the goal only to be stopped by an acrobatic save by AI custodian Vikram Singh. Any hopes of a comeback by the visitors was effectively killed off in the 86th minute when home team's Sagar Bedekar netted his team's second goal.

The midfielder, who had an outstanding game, found himself in a one-on-one situation with the opposition keeper and coolly placed the ball into the far corner of the goal.

The win took the airmen to the top of their qualifying group with matches against Pune FC, Mumbai FC and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited left to play in the coming week.

The top two teams at the end of the round-robin phase will qualify for the final round of the competition.

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