Maharashtra kept their semi-finals hopes alive with a hard fought 1-0 win against Punjab in a Group B encounter of the 71st National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy 2017 at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim.
Maharashtra looked the more intent of the two teams right from the start with several penetrating runs, good individual play and crisp passing, that left Punjab high and dry in several occasions.
Maharashtra had their first real chance soon after kick off when former Air India man Vijith Shetty shot just wide of the goal post. Their best chance though came when Rahul Das laid the ball on a platter for Abhishek Ambekar but he shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. Godfrey Pereira’s side were making all the right moves and forcing the Punjab midfielders to back track. Aaron D’Costa and Abhishek Ambekar along with Vijith Shetty combining well on several occasions. Punjab could have taken the lead against the run of play when Harpal Singh squared the ball to Rajbir Singh but his shot was blocked by the Maharashtra goalkeeper Aditya Mishra.
The second half saw the pendulum swing totally in favour of Maharashtra and it was only a matter of time before Vijith Shetty put them ahead. A brilliant square ball from Aaron D’Costa found Vijit Shetty in acres of space inside the box. He neatly turned one defender and shot right in the top corner leaving Punjab keeper Paramjit Singh with absolutely no chance of making a save. Just four minutes after Maharashtra went ahead, with twenty three odd minutes left on the clock, Punjab had their best chance to equalise when a brilliant cross from Amandeep Singh on the right found an unmarked Harpal Singh. He however tried to smash in a volley first time, and his weak shot was easily saved by the keeper. That was the closest Punjab would get as Maharashtra kept raiding their defence. Substitute Astle Pereira could have put the result beyond doubt missing two golden opportunities as Godfrey Pereira’s side hung on for their first three points of the tournament. Time would tell however, if they would hang on for a semi-final spot in an extremely tough group that is surely going all down to the wire.
At the Tilak Maidan, Kerala became the second team to qualify for the semi-finals after West Bengal when they scored a comfortable 4-1 win over Mizoram. Jobby Justin became the top scorer of the tournament taking his tally to four goals when he gave the Southerners the lead in the 7th minute. Two minutes later, Seesant S doubled Kerala’s lead to give them a 2-0 lead going into the lemon break. Mizoram then went a man down in the 27th minute when Lalfakzuala Fakzuala received his second boking for a reckless challenge. The numerical disadvantage took it’s toll in the second half as Kerala ran riot. A brilliant brace by substitute Asharuddin gave Kerala a more than comfortable lead and a boost to their goal difference. Mizoram pulled one back four minutes before the final whistle when Lalrammawia Rammawia found the back of the net. Mizoram though still have a chance to join Kerala and make it to the semis if they beat Railways in their final match in two days’ time.
Goa v Services (GMC Stadium, Bambolim, 16.00 IST)
Bengal v Meghalaya (Tilak Maidan, 16.00 IST)