West Bengal defeated Manipur 3-0 in the second semi-final of the 75th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy on Friday at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium in Kolkata.
Bengal have now reached the competition’s pinnacle 46 times and will look to add to their record tally of 32 Santosh Trophy titles when they face hosts Kerala in the final on Monday.
In the second minute of the first innings, Bengal took the lead. Sujit Singh attempted a long-range shot that appeared to be a routine save for Angomjambam Chingkhei Meitei, but the ball dropped right in front of the keeper and the bounce completely fooled him as the ball nestled into the back of the net.
The Manipur players were taken aback by the start, and Meitei’s head seemed to drop after making the error, indicating that he was nervous while claiming crosses. In the seventh minute, things got even worse for the keeper and his team.
A harmless long ball from the Bengal backline was floated in, and it appeared that the Manipur defenders were well-positioned to clear the ball. However, the goalkeeper came out of his box to claim the ball almost to the edge of the box. He spilled it, and Manipur was punished by an alert Md Fardin Ali Molla.
The young assailant still had a lot to do after that. He went left before returning to his right, deceiving the defender and gaining a yard for himself. He put his shot past a desperate Meitei and a defender on the line to give West Bengal a 2-0 lead.
Bengal then returned to their shell, content to sit back and defend in numbers, allowing Manipur to have the majority of the ball. However, West Bengal won the first half 2-0.
Bengal attempted to retake control at the start of the second half, but it was Gift Raikhan’s team that had the better of the exchanges as they sought a way back into the game. They had two good chances to cut the deficit in half. The first fell to Sudhir Laitonjam, who was unable to divert Somishon Shirak’s brilliant cutback into the net.
Shirak was given an even better opportunity. He had a clear shot on goal with only Priyant to beat, but he completely fluffed his lines, allowing Bengal to breathe a sigh of relief. Coach Ranjan was animated on the sidelines, urging his team to regain control and avoid these nervous moments.
Bengal finally got past Manipur in the 74th minute. Dilip Orawn’s attempted left-wing cross appeared to be heading straight for the hands of substitute keeper Md Abujar. However, he misjudged the flight of the ball and attempted to tip it over, but completely missed, allowing Bengal to score their third goal.
Both teams had a few half-chances, but no one was able to break through, and Bengal advanced to the Santosh Trophy finals.
(Inputs from IANS)