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NFL: JCT thrash HAL
Dempo Sports Club have been forced to put their victory celebrations on hold.
It looked like they had rung in the celebrations after Ranty Martins put the table toppers in the lead a second time with a 64th minute strike. But Suley Musah's powerful header in the 87th minute helped Air India snatch a rousing 2-2 draw in the 17th round NFL match at the Cooperage in Mumbai on Sunday.
National Football League
Earlier, man-of-the-match Anthony Pereira, who had supplied the cross for Ranty's 15th goal of the competition, had put the Goan club ahead with a header in the 12th minute, which Bashiru Abbas had neutralised in the 33rd.
Dempo now have 33 points with a game in hand against Mohun Bagan, six points ahead of second placed Mahindra United who face must win situations against East Bengal (away) and Mohammedan Sporting (at home) [See League table].
A draw against the Kolkata club at home will allow Dempo to regain the NFL title they first won in 2005. Even if they lose, the Mumbai defending champions will have to bridge the huge goal difference of 8 to deny Dempo their second triumph.
Dempo looked like overpowering the hosts, who have not lost to an outside team at this venue in the NFL this season, with Valerian Rebello, Beto and Pereira coming close to scoring after the latter had given the visitors an early lead.
But Raju Ekka fisted away the Brazilian's free-kick in the 29th minute and Musah saved on the goalline after Pereira had lobbed the goalkeeper.
But Air India raised the level of their game and a Bolaji Majek error helped Abbas flick in the equaliser from a Napoleon Singh cross. Air India again showed their never-say-die spirit after Martins had again put the visitors ahead for the second time.
They raided the rival citadel time and again and from one of Uttam Singh's patented long throw-ins, their Ghanaian defender Musah found the net to effect a split of points.
Air India now move to sixth spot with 21 points, one rung ahead of Mohun Bagan who have the same tally but an inferior goal difference.
"I came here looking for a point and we got it," said a philosophical Dempo coach Armando Colaco after the match. "We're almost there unless we falter at the end and (Mohammedan) Sporting give away their match (against Mahindras)."
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