Santosh Trophy: Services enters semis with last minute goal

The 1-0 win was the Services’ third straight win in the tournament and earned it a place in the semi-finals with a match to spare against Mizoram. Maharashtra finished its engagements in the tournament with nine points from four matches.

Francis Zoununtluangn of Services takes on Abhishek Ambedkar (R) of Maharastra during a Santosh Trophy match in Nagpur.   -  S. Sudarshan

The match was meandering towards a goalless draw when Francis Zoununtluangn snatched the match-winner with a 90th minute header to stun Maharashtra in a pool ‘A’ match of the 70th Santosh Trophy National Football championship at the Railway stadium here on Sunday.

The 1-0 win was the Services’ third straight win in the tournament and earned it a place in the semi-finals with a match to spare against Mizoram. Maharashtra finished its engagements in the tournament with nine points from four matches.

At the University stadium, 10-man Mizoram crushed Jammu and Kashmir 4-1 but the result will have no impact as Services’ win effectively ended Mizoram's semi-finals hopes. The North East side can only play for pride when it takes on the Services in the last league match on Tuesday.

Maharashtra lowered its guard in the dying minutes and paid the price for that mistake. A needless foul saw Services earn a 35-yard free-kick. Services captain Antony Chettri whipped in a long ball which sailed over the defensive wall and came to Vivek Kumar who was on the right. An off-balance Vivek Kumar did well to head the ball forward towards the goal post and the ball came to an unmarked Francis who headed it into the open net from close.

The goal ended Maharashtra’s dream run in the tournament and credit should be given to Services for its resilience as it withstood a period of sustained pressure from its rival in the second half and scored when it mattered.

Maharashtra was forced to make three changes in the squad as injured Mohammed Shahbaz was rested. Vijit Shetty, who received two yellow cards, had to sit out and Wayne Vaz was rested. The team looked lost in the first half and it was Services which looked marginally the better side. However, the host put up a much improved performance at the start of second half and it should be ruing those missed chances.

In the 53rd minute Maharashtra got its first chance but Shrikant Veeramallu’s header was wayward after he was put in position by Rayiner Fernandez. Four minutes later, Shrikant blasted out from close when the ball rebounded and came to him off a Services’ defender who shielded Aaron’s first timer from outside the box.

Services wrested control in the midfield and Arjun Tudu with his pace upfront and P.S. Jain with his lethal foot were a constant menace for Maharashtra defenders. Jain saw a left footed attempt sail over the bar in the 75th minute and Maharashtra goalkeeper Kishan was alert to tip over a dangerous dipping free-kick from Antony Chettri in the 78th minute as Services upped the ante in the last quarter.

When Maharashtra played for time, Services’ all out attempts in the dying minutes bore fruit as it scored through Francis.

Mizoram scored its first win in the tournament defeating Jammu & Kashmir 4-1. The win was marred by Laldingngheta receiving a red card in the 72nd minute. Lal Thanthanga (4th), Malsawmfela (59th), Laldingngheta (65th) and Lalmunsanga (85th) scored for Mizoram while Farukh Chowdhary (5th) was the goal-scorer for Jammu & Kashmir.

Results

Services 1 (Francis Zoununtluangn 90) bt Maharashtra 0.

Mizoram 4 (Lal Thanthanga 4, Malsawmfela 59, Laldingngheta 65, Lalmunsanga 85) bt Jammu & Kashmir 1 (Farukh Chowdhary 5).

Monday’s matches: Tamil Nadu v Bengal; Goa v Punjab.

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