Meghalaya made history in Indian football on Monday, clinching a maiden entry into the semifinals of the 76th National Football Championship for the Hero Santosh Trophy.
Meghalaya's dream came true when they beat former champions West Bengal 2-1 in their concluding Group B encounter at the OFA 7th Battalion Ground here and now will vie for the title when the knockout rounds take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Meghalaya thus became the fourth team to book their place in the semis, finishing behind Services, who have already qualified as the toppers of Group B. The two teams that qualified from Group A are Punjab and Karnataka.
Head Coach Syiemlieh's team started the day knowing that just winning against Bengal would not be enough for them -- they also needed a favour from Services, who were playing Railways at the Capital Football Arena.
Having previously beaten Indian Football giants Manipur and thrashed Delhi, Meghalaya needed to win and hoped Railways didn't.
Bengal were in no mood to succumb easily though and took the lead via Sougata Hansda in the 36th minute. Meghalaya did not let their heads drop, though, and found their reward at the end of the half, Allen Lyngdoh (44') and Nikelson Bina (45'+3') scoring in quick succession to give them the lead.
The second half was played at a slower pace, Meghalaya keen to see the game out without any drama. An injury to Bengal goalkeeper Shubham Roy meant that there would be a lot of added on time, and despite repeated Bengal attempts, an equaliser never arrived.
In the semifinals, Punjab will face Meghalaya, while Services take on Karnataka.
In other matches on Monday, Services thrashed Railways 4-0 while Delhi got the better of Manipur 2-0.
Railways needed a win to qualify from Group B into the knockout stage, and facing a Services outfit that had already qualified, they knew they had their task cut out. Teams as fine-tuned and in-form as Services never want to let their level drop and lose momentum.
Throughout the final round, Railways have employed a low block defence, that sits back and thwarts and frustrates opponents before nicking the goal that will give them the victory.
Against Services, their plan did not change. Services kept knocking throughout the first half an hour, and when the floodgates finally opened, the goals burst through. Gautam Singh and Adersh Mattumal scored a goal in either half to give their team the win and confirm Railways' exit.
Meanwhile, Delhi recorded their first victory of the Final Round, beating Manipur in the final game at the Capital Football Arena on Monday.
For Manipur, last year's semifinalists, it was a humbling end to a campaign that promised much more. Ajay Singh's first-half brace was enough for Delhi to wrap up a comfortable victory.
( 479 Words)