Santosh Trophy
Goa rise from the dead to beat Manipur, to meet Services in Santosh Trophy final
07 Mar 2024

Soumo Ghosh
AIFF Media Team

ITANAGAR: Goa and Services have booked their spots in the 77th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy, at the Golden Jubilee Stadium on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Goa laboured to beat a spirited Manipur side 2-1 deep into the extra time, while Services earned a victory by the same margin after 90 minutes against Mizoram.

Necio Fernandes makes all the difference

Manipur 1 (Ngangbam Pacha Singh 18’)
lost to
Goa 2 (Necio Maristo Fernandes 90+6’, 116’)

Goa came back from the dead to beat Manipur 2-1 in extra time to ensure their 14th appearance in the Santosh Trophy final. While Ngangbam Pacha Singhput Manipur in the lead in the 18th minute, Necio Maristo Fernandes (90+6’, 116) struck twice to take Goa into the final.   

In what was a highly spirited game, Goa looked all but ready to go back home after Ngangbam Pacha Singh put Manipur in front, but Goa’s Necia Maristo Fernandes scored a brace to win it for Goa.

It was a high-tempo start to the game, with frequent chances at both ends. Within the first 10 minutes, Goa’s Lloyd Cardozo and Manipur’s Sanathoi Meetei had chances, but both sent their efforts wide.

Sanathoi had another close shave a few minutes later when he was played behind the Goa defence, he had just the keeper to beat and tried to chip him, missing the target by no more than a foot.

Manipur slowly began to grow in the game, employing a three-man high press. Goa, who had implemented a smooth passing game so far in the tournament, found it difficult to beat the press, and seemed shellshocked.

This eventually led to Manipur breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute, when the high press let to Manipur getting the ball in the Goa half. Pacha Singh saw his window of opportunity and pulled the trigger from about 30 yards, leaving Goa goalkeeper Antonio Dylan Inacio da Silva flat-footed in goal. The ball struck the underside of the bar and dropped inside the goal, before bouncing out into da Silva’s grasp. Certain that they had taken the lead, the Manipur players burst into celebration, as a goodly number of Manipur fans broke into celebration. Referee Jehrul Islam took a moment to confer with his assistant before awarding the goal.

The complexion of the game completely changed after the change of ends, however, as Goa came out looking for a way back. Manipur were happy to sit back and hit on the counter, though they were not as successful at the latter.

Goa finally got the equalizer deep into injury time (the referee gave eight minutes of it),. From a melee inside the box, Necio Maristo Fernandes produced a moment of brilliance, as he acrobatically back-volleyed it into the goal from inside the box, sending the game into extra time.

Manipur came back strongly in extra time, while Goa, looked to hit on the counter. It was deep in the second half of extra time, with only four minutes left on the clock, that Necio Fernandes struck again. With much less elegance when compared to the first goal, but a goal that did the job for his side nonetheless. He ran on to a low centre from the right and attempted to score, but it was saved by Manipur keeper Siddharth Rana. However, Fernandes ran onto the rebound and poked it in from two yards, evoking fist bumps from his coach.

A flurry of red cards ensued as tempers flared at the end of the match. Manipur head coach Thangjam Saran Singh and a team staff member were shown the red card just after Goa's second goal, while substitute Sushilkumar Singh was sent off in the sixth minute of injury time in extra time.

Services edge Mizoram

Services 2 (Rahul Ramakrishnan 21’, Bikash Thapa 83’)
Mizoram 1 (Malsawmfela 90+3’)

Reduced to 10 men in the 88th minute, six-time champions Services ended Mizoram’s fine run in the tournament with a 2-1 victory in front of a vociferous crowd that kept getting louder as the minutes wore on. Goals from Rahul Ramakrishnan (21’) and Bikash Thapa (83’) took Services to their 12th final in the Santosh Trophy. Malsawmfela (90+3’) scored the only goal for Mizoram.

 The dominance of Services was evident from the start as they controlled the tempo with authority, though the Mizoram's defence managed to hold firm. Services displayed their intent as early as in the 8th minute with Vijay's dynamic run down the right wing. He was all set to get the first shot on target but was denied by a resolute Mizoram defence. 

It was Services, who eventually found the breakthrough in the 21st minute. Capitalising on a cross from the left, Rahul calmly slotted the ball into the top corner with a clinical left-footer.

Mizoram posed a real threat for the first time in the 24th minute when Malsawmtluanga's free-kick narrowly missed the target. Services goalkeeper Sayad Bin Abdul Kadir judged the ball well, making a slight jump to his right to gather it cleanly.

Services continued to dominate and came close to doubling their lead in the 28th minute through a well-worked move on the right flank. However, Vijay failed to keep his shot down. Services, undoubtedly, were the superior side in the first 45 minutes. With solid defence and effective ball distribution, they kept Mizoram at bay for much of the first 45 minutes.

Services continued to harass the Mizoram defence with Vijay and Murmu at the helm. In the 65th minute, Murmu's shot from inside the box stretched Mizoram goalkeeper Lalmuanawma fully, but it couldn’t fetch a goal.

In the 83rd minute, Services doubled their lead. Substitute Bikash Thapa won the ball inside the box and then calmly slotted it into an empty net after Muanawma rushed out to leave the area open.

Tensions flared up between Services defender Zothanpuia and Mizoram forward and crowd favourite Malsawmfela. The section of Mizoram fans at the Golden Jubilee Stadium instantly began baying for Zothanpuia’s head, and the referee obliged by flashing him the red card; Malsawmfela was also cautioned with a yellow card.

The seasoned Mizoram forward and former India U-19 international, however, showed exactly why he was so ferociously doted on by the fans, as he calmly slotted the ensuing free-kick into the top corner from just outside the Services box.

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