Santosh Trophy: Mizoram come alive in sudden death; Manipur runaway winners

Itanagar, Mar 6 (UNI) The last two quarter-final encounters of the 77th Santosh Trophy went the contrasting way on Tuesday night, before Manipur and Mizoram emerged winners at the Golden Jubilee Stadium here.

On a day when two northeast sides confirmed their fast-growing authority in Indian football, Manipur were the first to make the last four grade with a massive 7-1 triumph over Assam.

On the contrary, the next match proved to be a contest of an extended night as Mizoram showed seven-time champions Kerala the exit door with a 7-6 verdict in the sudden death penalty shootout.

The regulation time, followed by the 30 minutes of extra time proved futile as neither team could score.

In the semi-finals on Thursday, March 7, Services will take on Mizoram at 2.30 pm IST, while Manipur will face Goa in the second semifinal at 7 pm IST.

A penalty shootout of precision ensued as neither side looked like they were in the mood to miss a penalty, which Mizoram won 7-6.

With the first five of each side having scored their respective spot-kicks, it was all down to sudden death. Kerala’s Sujith VR was the only player to miss his penalty, sending his effort wide.

MC Malsawmzuala, Malsawmfela, FC Lalhmunmawia, Ephraim Lalremtluanga, Lalrinchhana Tochhawng, Lalremruata HP, and Lalbiakthanga Hmar were the scorers for Mizoram, while Sanju G, Arjun V, Mohamed Salim, Riswanali E, Sarath Prasanth, and Jithin G netted their penalties for Kerala. Sujith VR was the only player to miss his penalty.

Earlier, unlike the first match of the day, Mizoram and Kerala were locked in an intensely tactical battle.

Both sides were comfortable with the ball at their feet, but the accuracy of the final pass evaded them. Choked of space in the middle, the defenders looked to play the long balls behind the opposing back lines, which were dealt with.

Chances started coming, however, as Lalthankima’s looping header was tipped over by Kerala keeper Mohammed Azhar, Naresh B found Muhammed Ashiq with a delectable through pass at the other end. The latter whipped a low and hard cross across the face of the Mizoram goal but lacked the crucial touch.

Both sides seemed reluctant to go in at half time without taking the advantage, which caused quite a frenzy of goalmouth actions.

The lemon break allowed the teams to take stock of their respective opponents, as the pace of the game slowed considerably in the second half.

Mizoram exerted more control in the Kerala half, while the latter preferred to defend deep, attacking only when the opportunities presented themselves. The match went into extra time.

The tides seem to have turned somewhat in extra time, as Kerala looked to create overloads inside the box. For all their efforts, however, Kerala were restricted to shots from outside the box, which only served to provide some extra exercise to the Manipur substitutes warming up behind the goal.

However, with a semifinal spot at stake, neither side committed much to attack, which meant that the game went into the dreaded penalty shootout.

Former champions Manipur gave a powerful display to score a resounding 7-1. Manipur surged to a 4-0 lead within 20 minutes, thus virtually eliminating any chances of an Assam comeback. However, Assam managed to salvage some pride with a second-half goal.

While Wangkheimayum Sadananda Singh scored a hat-trick (11’,16’, 70’), skipper Phijam Sanathoi Meetei (4’), Ngangbam Pacha Singh (19’,P), Maibam Deny Singh (82’) and Imarson Meitei (88’) were the other scorers for the winners. Joydeep Gogoi scored the only goal for Assam in the 64th minute.

Phijam Sanathoi Meetei’s opened the scoring as he seized the opportunity in the 4th minute from Sadananda Singh’s pass outside the box to sneak the ball past Assam goalkeeper Abhinash Mech.

This was his 11th goal in this edition, making him the leading scorer in the 77th Santosh Trophy for the 2023–24 season. This early goal set the tone for Manipur’s dominance, with Sanathoi Meetei proving to be a constant thorn in Assam’s flesh throughout the match because of his attacking prowess.

As if not content with the early goal, Ngathem Imarson Meitei displayed his proficiency with a powerful left-footer in the 6th minute from the edge of the box, although Assam’s Abhinash Mech managed to collect it perfectly.

However, Manipur’s relentless pressure eventually paid off as Sadananda Singh scored with a diving header in the 11th minute, capitalising on a precise pass from Ngathem Imarson Meitei from the left flank.

Manipur continued to pound their rivals, with Sadananda Singh securing his second goal in the 16th minute after a well-coordinated set-up from Sanathoi Meetei. Sadananda placed the ball perfectly into the left corner of the net.

Assam’s fortunes were further dented in the 20th minute when Manipur was awarded a penalty after Urjoy Brahma of Assam fouled the Manipur captain, Sanathoi Meetei, inside the box.

Ngangbam Pacha Singh made no mistake from the spot kick, confidently slotting the ball into the top corner of the net to extend Manipur’s lead to 4-0.

In the 64th minute, Assam scored their only goal, from substitute Joydeep Gogoi’s brilliant finish. Akrang Narzary dribbled past a defender and passed it for Joydeep, whose curling shot found the target from a distance.

In the 70th minute, Sadananda completed his hat-trick with a header from inside the box and in the 82nd minute, Manipur’s left full-back, Deny Singh, calmly found the back of the net off a pass from Singam Subash Singh. Imarson Meitei completed the tally in the 88th minute.

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