Shillong, Mar 1: Meghalaya overcame a one goal deficit to beat eight-time champions Punjab 2-1 in the first semifinal of the 76th Men’s National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, today.
Meghalaya soaked up the pressure of being in their first semifinal and went one better by qualifying for the title match against Karnataka, which will be held on Saturday.
The opening goal came in the 16th minute through Parmjit Singh of Punjab but Figo Syndai equalised in the 37th for Meghalaya. The blinding winner came off the boot of Sheen Sohktung after a terrific one-two with Donlad Diengdoh in the 90th minute.
This was the first Santosh Trophy match played abroad and it also saw the use of Video Assistant Referee for the first time in an domestic Indian match.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh took the place of another former India international Aiborlang Khongjee as manager of the Meghalaya team, which remained coached by Khlain Pyrkhat Syiemlieh.
Meghalaya were quick up front, led by Diengdoh with support from Sohktung but they appeared a little too open at the back (at least in the first half), apart from Brolington Warlarpih, who was excellent on the left.
Punjab grabbed the first goal after a set-piece that Meghalaya goalkeeper Rajat Paul Lyngdoh punched away. The ball popped up in between three Punjab players and it was Parmjit who unleashed a strike, which went past five different Meghalaya players on its way into the back of the net.
The equaliser also came following a set-piece, with Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri sending a free-kick across the width of the pitch. Dawanchwa Challam’s header went in the direction of Sohktung but he couldn’t get anything on the ball and it fell to Syndai at the far post to tap the ball in.
Earlier, Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait grazed the opposition goalie’s gloves with a long-range shot, while, in the second half, Allen narrowly missed out with one of his own long attempts.
Rajat Paul performed well to deny Punjab a second goal in the 66th minute but, once again, his block sent the ball back into play, though this time it was blasted over by Punjab. In the 78th minute Diengdoh was denied by a brilliant reaction save from the Punjab custodian, Shamsher Singh Mahala.
Diengdoh was the danger man for Meghalaya but he turned out to deliver the assist for the winning goal, with Sohktung producing a top-class left-footer that soared past Shamsher.
In the second semifinal that followed, Karnataka defeated Services 3-1. This is the first time that Karnataka have reached the final of the Santosh Trophy in 47 years. Karnataka have been winners of the Santosh Trophy four times but not since 1968-69 when they were still playing as Mysore.
The losers from today will play in a third-place playoff on Saturday and the final will be played later that same day.
Today’s Meghalaya squad: Rajat Paul Lyngdoh (GK), Banskhemlang Mawlong, Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri, Brolington Warlarpih (C), Wanboklang Lyngkhoi, Dawanchwa Carlos Challam (sub Ronney Wilson Kharbudon 90’+3), Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait, Nikelson Bina (sub Damonlang Pathaw 80′), Figo Syndai (sub Manbhakupar Iawphniaw 59′), Sheen Steven Sohktung, Donlad Diengdoh
(All India Football Federation photo)