Malappuram: April 30 (IANS) Two quick goals early in the game helped West Bengal beat Manipur 3-0 in the second semi-final of the 75th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy at Manjeri Payyanad Stadium, here on Friday.
With this win, Bengal have now reached the competition’s pinnacle clash 46 times and will look to add to their record tally of 32 Santosh Trophy titles when they take on hosts Kerala in the final on Monday.
Bengal took the lead in the second minute of the first inning. Sujit Singh tried his luck from distance and it looked like it would be routine except for Angomjambam Chingkhei Meitei, but the ball landed right in front of the keeper and he was completely fooled by the bounce as the ball curled into the back of the net.
The Manipur players were shocked at the start and Meitei’s head seemed to drop after making the mistake and it showed when he was nervous while claiming crosses. And it went from bad to worse for the goalkeeper and his team in the seventh minute.
An innocuous long ball from the Bengal by-line floated in and it seemed that the Manipur defenders were well positioned to head the ball. But the goalkeeper went off his line to claim the ball almost on the edge of the box. He spilled it and an alert Md Fardin Ali Molla punished Manipur.
The young attacker still had a lot to do from there. He went left before turning right as he tricked the defender into making a yard. He put his shot past a desperate Meitei and a defender down the line to give West Bengal a 2-0 lead.
Bengal then retreated into their shell, happy to sit down and defend in numbers, allowing Manipur to have most of the ball. But the first half ended 2-0 in favor of West Bengal.
Bengal tried to regain control early in the second half, but it was Gift Raikhan’s side who had the better of the exchanges as they looked for a way back into the match. They had two good chances to cut the deficit in half. The first fell to Sudhir Laitonjam who failed to deflect a brilliant cut from Somishon Shirak into the net.
An even better opportunity fell to Shirak. He was clean in goal with only Priyant to beat, but he totally messed up his lines and Bengal breathed a sigh of relief. Coach Ranjan was in high spirits on the touchline as he urged his team to regain control and avoid these nervous moments.
In the 74th minute, Bengal finally put it past Manipur. Dilip Orawn’s cross attempt from the left appeared to be headed for the hands of substitute goalkeeper Md Abujar. But he lost the flight of the ball and tried to dump it, but missed completely and Bengal got their third goal.
Both teams created some half chances but neither managed to find a breakthrough and Bengal reached the final of the tournament.