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Updated March 6th, 2024 at 21:56 IST

Santosh Trophy: Semifinal extravaganza awaits in Arunachal Pradesh

Services will take on Mizoram in the first semi-final of the day at 2.30 pm IST, while Manipur will play Goa under the floodlights at 7 pm IST.

Santosh Trophy
Santosh Trophy | Image:AIFF
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And then there were four! The 77th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy is down to the semifinals, where Services, Mizoram, Manipur, and Goa will fight it out for a spot in the final at the Golden Jubilee Stadium, on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Services will take on Mizoram in the first semi-final of the day at 2.30 pm IST, while Manipur will play Goa under the floodlights at 7 pm IST. Both matches will be streamed live on the Arunachal Pradesh FA YouTube channel and on FIFA Plus.

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This is a battle between two sides that have shown a lot of resilience over the course of the tournament, and will be looking to use that to their advantage in this semifinal clash.

Services have been absolutely miserly at the back, having let in only six goals in 11 matches, including the Group Stage, Final Round Group A, and the quarterfinal. While they have been well-guarded at the back, up front, Samir Murmu has been putting in consistent performances, having scored 10 goals so far. While he had perhaps struggled to find his scoring boots once the team reached the Final rounds, the 22-year-old finally seems to be coming into his own. He scored the all-important goal against Services in the quarterfinal, which gave his side the breathing space for the second half.

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Services head coach Mileswamy Govindaraju Ramachandran said, “I must commend my players for adapting well to different situations. We had a tough group, and these boys have grown really well, playing against such teams. Tomorrow, we face Mizoram, who are a well-coordinated team with a good mix of young and experienced players. They have done well, but we are up for the challenge. Looking forward to a good and fair game.”

Mizoram, on the other hand, have shown a lot of grit and determination in Arunachal Pradesh, buoyed by the vibrant support that they receive from a goodly number of fans, most of whom are students. They have, in fact, improved every step of the way since the Final Round began, starting with a defeat against Maharashtra (1-3) and a draw against Karnataka (2-2). Not fazed by a 1-4 defeat at the hands of Manipur, they did well to finish second in their group, and have only gotten stronger since.

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Coached by Lalsangzuala Hmar, Mizoram were locked in a battle of will against a strong Kerala side and eventually prevailed 7-6 on penalties after it ended goalless post extra time. Hmar said, “Services have a well-balanced side, which they had last season too, so it will be difficult to face them. I had one good training session with the boys today, so hopefully good things will come.”

MC Malsawmzuala has been their standout player thus far, netting four goals, all of which have come in the Final Rounds.

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Manipur vs Goa

The second semi-final of the day will be a clash between two sides that just do not know how to lose. Manipur have played 11, and won 10 of them, beginning with the Group Stage, to Final Round, and the quarterfinal. They have built a winning habit, scoring a whopping 34 goals in the process. Their determination to prove their dominance was on ample display in the quarterfinal, when they steamrolled fellow Northeastern state Assam, 7-1 at the Golden Jubilee Stadium.

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Manipur head coach Thangjam Saran Singh said, “We did not have much time to prepare back home, so I feel our best is yet to come. As we practice more with each other, the boys understand the way they all work more, and the chemistry is building.

“Goa will be a tough side to face, but we have devised our plans on how to approach the game. It will be difficult, but we will work hard and try to get the victory,” he said.

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Phijam Sanathoi Meetei has been on fine form for Manipur, netting 11 goals in the tournament so far. He currently leads the scorers’ charts in the 77th NFC for Santosh Trophy. However, there will be some competition within the ranks for the top scorers’ award with two possible matches to go, as Wangkheimayum Sadananda Singh also put himself in contention for the award with a hat-trick in the quarterfinal against Assam; his tally now stands at eight.

There is a stark difference in the way these two giants of Indian Football have gone about their business. At the other end of the spectrum are Goa, who have made themselves into a unit that is difficult to beat. They had won exactly half of their 10 matches at the completion of the Group Stage and the Final Round, drawing the other five, and have also been able to establish themselves as a not-so-overtly-defensive side.

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Goa head coach Charles Ador Dias said, “Manipur are a good side. That state is a hub of football, and their players understand the game very well. We have a lot of respect for them. We are both unbeaten sides, and it will be a good show for the fans. Football is an unpredictable game, so one never knows what will happen. We just need to give our best every moment on the pitch.”

Mahammed Faheez has been an absolute crowd-pleaser with his nifty bag of tricks, which always keeps the opposition defenders on their toes. However, they have also shown that they can produce goals from a number of sources, like Necio Maristo Fernandes, Joshua D’Silva, and Lloyd Cardozo, all of whom have netted three apiece in the Santosh Trophy so far.

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Published March 6th, 2024 at 21:56 IST

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