New Delhi:Nigerian Odafe Onyeka Okolie made the difference once again for Churchill Brothers as the Goan outfit came from behind twice to beat Air India 3-2 and make their first final of the Osian's Durand Cup football tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi on Monday.
Okolie scored the winner with nine minutes left on the clock as Mario Soares' team moved within one match of the coveted title.
It was a spirited fight by Air India and they would be gutted after finishing on the wrong end of the result despite taking the lead on two occasions.
International Gourmangi Singh (17th minute), and Nigerians Mboyo Iyomi (35th) and Okolie (81st) got on the scoresheet for the winners while Dhanachandra Singh (seventh minute) and Santosh Koli (27th) were on target for Bimal Ghosh's team.
The match was a see-saw affair which witnessed momentum swings in both directions. The fast-paced first half, the best 45 minutes of the tournament so far, saw end-to-end action as four goals were scored.
Air India went ahead early when Dhanchandra Singh headed in a Koli free-kick from the left flank.
The Goan outfit, which had swept all before it in the previous two matches, were shocked into launching repeated attacks and drew level 10 minutes later.
A beautifully flighted free-kick from outside the area by Okolie invited international Gourmangi to attack it.
The defender's first attempt from close range was blocked by custodian Raju Ekka but the rebound went in off Gourmangi's body.
Regained the lead
The match had really opened up and Air India regained the lead through another set-piece.
A free-kick from Nepoleon Singh from near the right touchline was headed back into the danger area by Nigerian Bashiru Abbas and a diving Koli managed to put it in with his head past goalkeeper Vinay Singh.
Churchill coach Mario Soares then replaced custodian Vinay with Lalit Thapa.
His team came back for a second time when Okolie weaved his way into the box. His shot was parried by Ekka but compatriot Mboyo Iyomi was at the far post to knock the rebound in the unguarded net.
Air India kept coming forward in the second period and came close to a third when Narendra Meetei received a pass from Abbas but his shot came off the crossbar. Abbas' header off the rebound was easily gathered by the custodian.
The winner came late in the match when Okolie showed a burst of speed to take a long aerial ball and beat the attending defender.
Ekka saw the danger and advanced to thwart the Nigerian but Okolie went past him in a flash and rounded off defender Uttam Singh to find an empty net.
That was not the end of the drama and Air India's Paresh Shivalkar hit the bar from close range and Covan Lawrence's header from inside the area went wide.
Soares said he had feared the worst at one stage but complimented Okolie, who now has 10 goals from three outings.
"It was a tough match and at 1-2 down, I thought we would lose. But we played very well and Odafe was splendid," the coach said after the match.