Bengal, Punjab to meet in final
Kolkata: Hosts Bengal and Punjab today registered contrasting wins over their respective opponents to set up a summit clash in 64th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy at floodlit Yuba Bharati Krirangan here.
While Bengal, champions for 29 times, exorcised the ghosts of the past pulling off a 5-4 (1-1) victory over their last year’s nemesis Goa via penalty shootout.
In contrast, eight-time champions Punjab dominated right from the start to register a comfortable 3-1 win over a listless Tamil Nadu.
In the first semifinal of the day, holders Goa began their title defence positively taking a 20th minute lead through Milagres Gonsalves but Bengal equalised through Robin Singh’s in the 83rd minute.
In the penalty shootout, Bengal bounced back from 0-2 down and went on to clinch 4-3 with goals by captain Snehashish Chakraborty, Souvik Chowdhury, Sheikh Azim and Denson Devadas who scored the winner by taking the fifth penalty.
In the second semifinal, Balwant Singh struck twice (16th and 56th) while Maninder Singh scored once in the 35th to oust Tamil Nadu who scored a consolation goal through substitute M Elamurugan in 90+3rd minute.
Tamil Nadu were jolted in the 16th minute when Balwant Singh’s clinical header from Amandeep Singh’s cross gave Punjab the lead.
Maninder Singh took advantage of a TN defensive lapse in the 35th minute and struck with a powerful rightfooter.
After the break, Balwant received a Parveen Kumar cross and found the back of TN net for his second goal.
Tamil Nadu earned a late goal in the injury time when Elamurugan scored from a rebound to reduce the margin.
Bengal and Punjab had met in 2006-07 in the Santosh Trophy final with the northern state winning via tie-breaker.
Bengal also lost to Goa in the summit clash last year in Chennai in a similar fashion - via penalty shootout.
On Friday, the hosts struggled against Goa before making a turnaround in the shootout.
Already missing their key striker Shankar Oraon, the home side got a rude jolt when their makeshift forward Nilendra Dewan was injured as early as seventh minute.
In a goalmouth tackle by Denzil Branco, Dewan sustained an injury and had to be replaced by Robin Singh.
Bengal struggled badly up front with the erratic duo of Tariff Ahmed and Robin making things more difficult.
Goa took the lead in the 20th minute as Milagres headed home following a Godwin Franco corner.
Bengal got their best chance in the 45th minute when an unmarked Ahmed failed to head before an open net from a freekick by Jayanta Sen.
Bengal almost conceded a goal two minutes later but substitute Cavin Lobo missed the target.
From thereon, it was a series of missed passes and missed chances with Ahmed and Robin muffing at least two easy chances.
Skipper Snehashish Chakraborty, Jayanta Sen were impressive in giving the supply but poor coordination from Robin and Ahmed did not help in bringing Bengal’s equaliser.
But it was Robin who made amends for his poor form, bringing Bengal back on track with the equaliser seven minutes before the final whistle.
Robin scored from a left side attack initiated by R Dhanarajan as the tall striker sneaked through the Goan defence to make it 1-1 and take the match to extra-time.
Shabbir Ali’s boys upped the ante and put pressure on the reigning champions but could not score the winner.
In the shootout, Bengal missed their first attempt with Goa custodian and captain Felix D’Souza saving Rajiv Ghosh’s shot.
But Bengal did not give up with goalkeeper Abhra Mondal, playing in his first match, remained undeterred to hand Bengal a fabulous win.
Godwin Franco, Cavin Lobo and Adil Khan converted Goa’s first three penalty shots but John Dias hit the post, while Bengal goalkeeper Abhra Mondal saved Nicolas Rodrigues fifth attempt for the victory.
Having fired blank in their first try by Rajiv, Bengal scored through Snehashish Chakraborty, Souvik Chakraborty, Sheikh Azim and Denson Devadas for a 4-3 win in the shootout.