Soosairaj’s early goal in the second half took Tamil Nadu into the semifinals of the 70th Santosh Trophy National Football championship, at the University stadium here on Monday.

Goa, which also entered the semifinals from Pool ‘B’, did Tamil Nadu a favour by scoring a solitary goal win over Punjab and the result knocked out both Bengal and Punjab from the tournament.

Goa finished its engagements in the league with 10 points and is currently leading the group. However, Tamil Nadu which will play Punjab on Wednesday in its last league match can top the group if it wins by a two-goal margin.

TN on the counter

By no stretch of imagination was this, a commanding performance by Tamil Nadu in the do-or-die match. Bengal was the better side in the first half and it raided the rival half with purpose and intent. Adopting a safety first approach, Tamil Nadu concentrated on counter-attacks but attempts at goal were rather half-hearted in the first half.

Narohari Shestha had the first look at the TN goal but the Bengal striker shot wide in the sixth minute. The next best chance for Bengal came in the 12th minute when a booming free-kick from Imran Khan went marginally over the bar.

Praveendran, who was given a start by Tamil Nadu coach Robin Charles Raja due to injury to Santosh Kumar, created the first real chance for Tamil Nadu in the 20th minute when he crossed from the right flank only to see goalkeeper Priyant Kumar Singh intercepting it before it could reached Raegan.

Deadlock broken

However, Tamil Nadu struck early in the second half and it came off the first real penetrative move initiated by South Zone champion. The suddenness and precision of the move caught Bengal defence napping.

Praveendran started the move from middle and quickly relayed the ball to Pradeep who found Raegan free on the right flank. Raegan wasted no time in arrowing a fine cross from the right flank, which was connected by Soosairaj with a left footer.

Bengal regrouped but Tamil Nadu stayed resilient. The Bengal strikers were tightly marked and the midfielders were cramped for space. Despite holding possession, creative moves from Bengal were rare. Credit should be given to Tamil Nadu defence which allowed just two shots to be taken at its goal by Bengal strikers in the second half.

On the first occasion, Sounesh under the bar was alert when he saved a fine shot from Narohari Sheshta in the 75th minute and in the 82nd minute Imran Khan’s powerful left-footer from top of the box lacked direction. Tamil Nadu could have increased the lead in the 65th minute when Soosairaj made a penetrative run in the 65th minute from the left flank but failed to control the ball inside the box to waste the chance. At the fag end of the match, Edwin shot out from close.

Tamil Nadu coach Robin Charles Raja was elated with the victory and said everything worked according to plan while his Bengal counterpart was disappointed and said his team didn’t play to its potential in the crucial match. At the SEC Railway stadium, Goa rode on Francis Fernandez’s 18th minute goal to defeat Punjab which tasted its second defeat in the tournament.

The result:

Tamil Nadu 1 (Soosairaj 51) bt Bengal 0; Goa 1 (Francis Fernandez 18) bt Punjab 0.

Points table:

Goa: 4-3-0-1-5-1-10; Tamil Nadu: 3-2-0-1-4-0-7; Punjab: 3-1-2-0-2-2-3; Bengal: 3-1-2-0-2-4-3; Assam: 3-0-3-0-0-6-0 (Read as played, won, lost, draw, goals for, goals against and points)

Tuesday’s matches: Railways v Jammu & Kashmir; Services v Mizoram.