Meghalaya scripted history by reaching the semifinals of the 76th Men’s National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy today for the very first time.
To do so, they had to come from a goal down in Bhubaneswar against West Bengal, winning their final Group B match 2-1.
Victory, along with a 4-0 loss for Railways to group leaders Services, meant that Meghalaya secured second place and did not have to concern themselves with the later match between Manipur and Delhi.
Bengal had not won a single game before today but seized the lead through Sougata Hansda in the 36th minute.
However, they were unable to hold that advantage going into the break as Meghalaya struck twice towards the end of the first half thanks to Allen Lyngdoh Nongbri (44′) and Nikelson Bina (45’+3). Bina was subsequently named Player of the Match.
Coach Khlain Pyrkhat Syiemlieh made just the one change from the 5-1 victory against Delhi two days ago – bringing in Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait for Fullmoon Mukhim – and the winning combination of players delivered what was needed.
Out of five matches in the group stage of the final round, Meghalaya won three (the other win coming against Manipur), drew with Railways and lost to Services.
Earlier, in the preliminary round, Meghalaya netted 11 points from five matches. They started with a draw against Sikkim and then recorded three wins over Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry before drawing with Odisha on New Year’s Day.
Meghalaya have shown real progress this year; in last year’s edition of the Santosh Trophy, they qualified through the zonal round but only finished fourth in their final round group.
In fact, this year has seen real differences throughout the competition. Out of the four semifinalists from 2021-2022, only one state has managed to make it to the last-four this time – Karnataka from Group A. Gone are not just West Bengal – the most successful team in Santosh Trophy history and last year’s runners-up – but also reigning champions Kerala and five-time champions Goa.
Punjab have won the title six times but the last title came in 2007-08. Services have as many champions’ trophies as well and their last success was much more recently, in 2018-19. Karnataka have been winners of the Santosh Trophy four times but not since 1968-69 when they were still playing as Mysore.
Meghalaya will face Punjab in the semifinals on March 1 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Services will play Karnataka in the other semi.
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