Shivajians to play Aizawl in Durand Cup semis

It won't be easy for Shivajians against Aizawl, who finished its own campaign with identical points in Group B but with better goal difference. Whereas Aizawl's only loss came against Neroca FC in the North-Eastern derby but other than that, its defence has held strong.

Aizawl was relegated to second division after 2015-16 season despite winning against and finishing above Shivajians.   -  Durand Cup

DSK Shivajians take on Aizawl FC in the semifinal of the 128th Durand Cup football tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium here on Friday with coach Dave Rogers expecting a better outing from his boys than what was on display in the last few games of the group stage.

Shivajians began with a bang, the I-League side registering comprehensive wins in its first two games before stuttering. Its only loss in the pool stage came to bottom-placed Minerva FC and the inability to hold on to its lead in successive games would be a concern for Rogers.

Barring its Spanish playmaker Juan Quero Barraso, the other foreign players are yet to pull their weight for the team that was a front-runner for the title before the tournament started.

That doesn't look so certain now. The other players to have impressed for the Pune-based side have been youngster Arif Shaikh and striker Rohit Kumar, a graduate of the DSK academy.

It won't be easy for Shivajians against Aizawl, who finished its own campaign with identical points in Group B but with better goal difference. Shivajians' flamboyant attack is its strength but that has often led to a break in the defence which Minerva exploited to perfection. At the same time, there is history between the two teams and Aizawl would be keen to avenge its I-League relegation.

Aizawl was relegated to second division after 2015-16 season despite winning against and finishing above Shivajians, who has been given immunity from relegation for three years. As such, the team from North East would be looking to put one past Shivajians, the only team here with a foreign coach.

Aizawl's only loss came against Neroca FC in the North-Eastern derby but other than that, its defence has held strong. The team ended its group matches with a 1-1 draw against Real Kashmir FC at the Harbaksh Stadium on Thursday, the match being played after it was initially washed out due to heavy rains in the past one week.

A win against promoted I-League side Dempo SC would also be a confident booster for Aizawl, one of the most organised in the tournament, and Shivajians would do well to keep its tempers in check, specially Barraso who has often fallen foul of the officials.

The other semifinal would see Army Green take on Neroca FC and on form, the latter would be a favourite even though the Army side is capable of causing an upset.

It did in the previous game, against Gangtok Himalayan, scoring a lone goal and then holding on to the lead for more than 80 minutes. The fact that it was a virtual knockout proved that the Army team – only one of the four in the fray from the Services to advance to the semifinals – was capable of performing under pressure and Neroca would do well to not be complacent.

The result: Pool B: Aizawl FC 1 (William Lalnunfela) drew with RKFC 1 (Asrar Rehbar).

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