Sreenidi Deccan’s hopes of becoming the only team from the Hero I-League to make the Hero Super Cup 2023 semi-finals lay shattered on the pitch of Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri on Sunday night, April 16, 2023, when they went down to RoundGlass Punjab by a solitary goal scored by Valpuia off a header.
RoundGlass Punjab, the other I-League team from Group A, could progress nowhere because of the three points they earned, but played perfect spoilsport by forcing the Hyderabad side to take an early flight home.
While the two Hero I-League clubs battled it out in Manjeri, finally bowing out of the competition, the semi-final spot from this group was snatched away by Bengaluru FC, who drew with Kerala Blasters 1-1 to make the grade with five points.
In the recently concluded Hero I-League, RoundGlass emerged champions, followed by Sreenidi Deccan, who, despite being early in the lead in the points table, faltered during the closing stages to surrender the title. On Sunday, the Punjab side had more of the exchanges in the first half and took the lead four minutes before the half time.
The Punjab side earned a free-kick on the right and as Spanish midfielder Juan Mera Gonzalez put it high in the rival penalty box, Valpuia jumped high in the air to outsmart the defenders and nod the ball home.
While the focus was on Sreenidi and the possible chance of them getting into the last four, the Hyderabad side failed to display the required urge to go for the kill. Their first real chance in the match came in the 33rd minute when Colombian David Castaneda squared the ball for Nigerian Rilwan Hassan, but the latter’s first- timer was saved by Punjab custodian Kiran Kumar Limbu with a commendable effort.
The battle in the second half turned more intense than it was in the first 45 minutes, with both teams trying to control things in the middle. RoundGlass had a chance to go further up in the 62nd minute when Sreenidi goalkeeper Aryan Niraj Lamba had to do his best to foil Slovakian Luka Majcen. He, perhaps, could have found himself beaten on the rebound, but heaved a sigh of relief when Krishnanda Singh shot the ball over the bar.
With 20 minutes left for the final whistle, a desperate Sreenidi coach Carlos Vaz Pinto made three changes – he brought in Asraf Ali Mondal, Louis Ogana and Chhunga – it did add to the pressure on the rival defence, but the equaliser they were looking for remained elusive. In the 86th minute, Chhunga fired a low volley that had a goal written all over it, but Kiran once again came to his team’s rescue with a fine save. That was the last time Sreenidi could pose a serious threat to RoundGlass’s goal.