Bengal, a 31-time champion, entered the final for the first time in six years after defeating Mizoram 6-5 via sudden death in the semifinals of the 71st Santosh Trophy National Football championship at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim here on Thursday.
The teams failed to score during regular time and 30 minutes of extra-time. The watertight Bengal defence kept a clean slate again and so far Bengal has not conceded a goal in the tournament during regular play.
Tied 4-4 at the end of the shootout and after Bengal’s Moirangthem Basanta had found the net during sudden death, its goalkeeper Sankar Roy managed to deny Lalbiakhlua to help his team reach the final.
Mizoram must be ruing the chances it missed in the match including the two chances the team got in the dying minutes of extra time.
Lalbiakhlua had the chance to sew up the match in the 119th minute when he was put in position by Lalchhuanawma but the striker shot straight at the goalkeeper Sankar Roy. Just before the final whistle in the extra time, the Bengal goalkeeper pulled off a fine save off a glancing header from Lalchhuanawma on a free-kick from outside the Bengal penalty box.
During regular play, the defensive phalanx put up by West Bengal’s back four was hard to penetrate and neutralised most of Mizo raids.
However, whenever Mizo strikers managed to dodge the defenders, they found goalkeeper Sankar Roy a hard nut to crack. Sankar made at least three excellent saves to help his side stay in the contest. The first time Sankar’s ability was tested was in the 28th minute when he parried away a stiff shot from Lalbiakhlua for a corner. In the first half of extra-time, Sankar again made a reflex save to deny Jesse Laldinpuia as the striker came with a on-the-turn shot from close.
Bengal, which relied more on counter attacks, too had opportunities. However, Bengal’s key striker Manvir Singh was generally off target. And when Manvir managed to get the direction right, Mizoram’s goalkeeper Muanawma denied him on two occasions with good saves.
In the shootout, Sankar Roy’s calmness under bar fetched Bengal its first final appearance in six years.
Bengal 6 (Rana Gharami, Manvir Singh, Samad Ali Mallick, Mumtaz Akthar, S.K. Faiz, Moirangthem Basanta Singh) bt Manipur 5 (Lalrammawia, Ramfangzauva, Lalrammuanpua Apuia, Lalrinchhanarcha, Lalchhuanawma).
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