INDIAN FOOTBALL

Meghalaya and Services have advanced to the Santosh Trophy semi-finals

Hero 75th National Football Championship - Santosh Trophy

For the first time in the competition’s history, Meghalaya makes it to the final four!

On Monday, February 20, 2023, Meghalaya made history. The team qualified for the semi-finals of the Hero Santosh Trophy. The state has never made it this far in the event and will now compete for the crown when the knockouts take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Their desire was realised when they defeated former champions West Bengal 2-1 in the final Group B match at the OFA 7th Battalion Stadium.

Services have already qualified as the Group B champions. Punjab and Karnataka are the two teams from Group A that have advanced to the Santosh Trophy semi-finals. Punjab will meet Meghalaya in the semi-finals, while Services will face Karnataka.

Coach Syiemlieh compliments his players

When Meghalaya’s players made history in Odisha this time, the hints that they were not to be written off came a year before in Malappuram.

In the previous edition, they became the first team to not only score against hosts Kerala, but also take points off them in a historic 2-2 tie. While the coaching staff has shifted, many of the players have remained consistent.

“There is a good mix of boys who have experience playing not just Santosh Trophy but also for clubs outside the state,” head coach Khlain Syiemlieh says. “They have a lot of hunger and desire and I’m very happy for them. They deserve it.” 

Although having several prominent teams that have played in the Hero I-League (Shillong Lajong, Royal Wahingdoh, and Rangdajied United), and Indian internationals like Eugenson Lyngdoh and Aiborlang Khongjee, Meghalaya has never been considered a powerhouse of Northeast football, let alone that of India.

Services benefit Meghalaya team

Their best performance in the game is a single bronze medal at the National Games in 2007. Khongjee, in reality, played a role.

He was a member of that bronze-medal winning squad and is presently the Assistant Coach of the Meghalaya Santosh Trophy team. Khongjee, ever humble and charming, quickly listed this as a far greater accomplishment.

“In my time as a player we only qualified for the Santosh Trophy once,” he says. “And the bronze in the Nationals, while a big thing, wasn’t as big as this. This is the Santosh Trophy after all.”

Syiemlieh is a respected football coach in the state. He has played for Ryntih FC as well. His grassroots efforts and acquaintance with a large number of players in the team have aided them in creating shockwaves in Indian football.

Syiemlieh’s squad needed a favour from Services to beat Bengal.

Giant-killing dash

Meghalaya needed to do the job from the start after previously defeating Indian Football powerhouse Manipur and thrashing Delhi.

Bengal, on the other hand, were not about to give up simply and took the lead in the 36th minute thanks to Sougata Hansda. Meghalaya, on the other hand, did not let their heads sink and received their reward before the halftime break, with 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 tempo, with Meghalaya eager to finish the game without incident. Due to an injury to Bengal goalkeeper Shubham Roy, there would be a lot of additional time, and despite repeated Bengal tries, an equaliser would not come. Meghalaya’s celebrations started on the field. Syiemlieh and Khongjee were dutifully hurled into the air, surrounded by players hoping to increase the ante in the knockouts.

Services defeated Railways 4 (Oinam Gautam Singh 32, 49′, Adersh Mattumal 34′, 65′)

Railways needed a win to advance from Group B to the knockout stages, and they knew they were up against a Services team that had already qualified. Services’ fine-tuned and in-form teams never want to decrease their level and lose momentum.

Railways have used a low block defence throughout the Final Santosh Trophy Round, sitting back and thwarting and frustrating opponents until nicking the game-winning goal. Their strategy against Services remained same. For the opening half-hour, services continued to knock, and when the floodgates eventually opened, the goals poured in. Gautam Singh and Adersh Mattumal were the Goals scorers.

Gautam Singh and Adersh Mattumal each scored a goal in the second half to secure their team’s victory and seal Railways’ departure.

Delhi defeated Manipur 2 (Ajay Singh 18′, 45’+1′)

Delhi won their first game in the Final Round today, defeating Manipur at the Capital Football Arena. It was a humiliating finale to a season that promised so much more for Manipur, last year’s semi-finalists. Ajay Singh’s first-half brace was enough for Delhi to cruise to victory.

Meghalaya will meet Punjab in the semi-finals at Riyadh’s King Fahd Stadium, a rematch of last year’s group stage game (Punjab won 1-0). Meanwhile, in the second semi-final, Services will meet Karnataka.

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