Shillong, May 23: Shillong Lajong FC will take on East Bengal in the semifinal round of the U-18 Youth League at the JN Stadium here tomorrow at 7PM.
In the earlier fixture, Kerala Blasters will go up against SAI Kolkata at the same venue at 3PM.
Out of the four teams to qualify for the semifinals (the top side from each of the four groups) Lajong were the only ones to win all three of their group matches.
SLFC got their Group D campaign off and running with a 1-0 victory over Aizawl FC, then defeated Ozone Football Academy 2-0 and rounded it all off with a 2-1 win over FC Goa. The latter saw them concede their only goal in the final round and that was via a penalty.
Lajong were also unbeaten in the zonal round of the competition going back to January-February, but coach Bobby Nongbet knows that some formidable opponents await his charges tomorrow.
“East Bengal are a strong team with a lot of quality players. It will be a tough encounter and we will give our best. Our boys have worked very hard and have prepared really well for this tournament. It is a wonderful feeling to reach the semifinals and we are looking forward to an exciting game,” Nongbet was quoted as saying in a Lajong press release today.
East Bengal, meanwhile, finished Group B without conceding a single goal. They beat SAI Trivandrum 2-0 and Minerva Punjab 3-0 before playing a goalless draw with FC Pune City. They came through as the top team one point ahead of SAI Trivandrum (7 to 6).
Like East Bengal, Kerala Blasters also finished with two wins and a draw in Group C. However, they squeaked through to the semis based on having scored more goals than second-placed Bengaluru FC after both were tied on seven points each and had the same goal difference of +2. After drawing 0-0 with Bengaluru, the Blasters won their next two games, but these were close 3-2 affairs.
Their opponents tomorrow, however, are pretty lucky to have made it to the last-four.
On paper, as we originally reported, SAI Kolkata drew 0-0 with Sudeva FC in their Group A opener. However, the latter fielded an ineligible player and the SAI team were thus later awarded a 3-0 victory. Another goalless outing and a 2-0 win over bottom side Sporting Clube de Goa put them on seven points, the same as second-placed Tata Football Academy (TFA), but those vital three goals from the Sudeva match propelled them to first place with a goal difference of +5 compared to TFA’s +4.
(Photo contributed by Shillong Lajong FC)