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Santosh Trophy 2021-22, April 21: Manipur and Karnataka pick up wins to lead Group B

Santosh Trophy 2021-22 Gujarat vs Manipur
Source: AIFF Media

Gujarat 0-2 Manipur

Manipur beat Gujarat 2-0 in a Group B encounter at the Hero 75th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy today. Manipur, having shocked Services, had lost to Odisha in their previous encounter. They rebounded from that setback to set the group up perfectly for a grand finale in pursuit of the semis.

In a tightly contested first half, chances were few and far between, both teams unable to find their way in the final third. Manipur after shocking the defending champions had suffered a setback with a loss to Odisha, set the tone for the game. Right from the opening whistle they dominated the ball, stringing together neat passes in midfield to move the ball ahead. In the second minute, their slick play yielded the first of many half chances, Ngulgoulal Singsit curling a brilliant cross into the box that evaded everyone,drifting safely wide.

Manipur’s right side was particularly productive, Singsit and Somishon Shirak the protagonists of an unproductive half, both constantly dropping dangerous balls into the area but unable to find the one that would break the deadlock.

While both teams were coming off a loss, it was Gujarat who had come out of theirs with more acclaim, losing to the defending champions after going up by a goal. Even here, despite being strangled out of possession they were attentive to the counter, and were the ones who created the first real chance of the game. In the 15th minute, captain Brajesh Yadav threaded through a brilliant ball to Jay Kanani up front. The youngster ran free of his marker and was through on goal, only for his first touch to betray him. It was enough for an onrushing Md Abujar to parry. The goalkeeper’s rebound fell kindly to Mohmadmaruf Ismail Mulla, but from a tight angle, crowded by bodies the forward shot wide and Manipur had escaped.

Manipur paid heed to the counter attacking threat and were keen to not lose possession within their own half. Singsit’s guile kept them in contention for the opener. And Gujarat of course had their own demons to battle. In the 19th minute, Muhammed Sagar Ali delayed playing the ball out from the back just a fraction too long, and was hustled out of possession by Singsit. This time though the midfielder decided to shoot rather than pass, and shot clean on goal albeit from a tight angle. Ajmla Eranjhikkal dived low to palm it out and keep Gujarat level.

It remained the best chance anyone had to break the deadlock as the teams headed into halftime.

Manipur started the second half much like they ended the first, hogging the possession and passing neatly in midfield. In the 48th minute, Jenish Singh played Sudhir Laitonjam through into the box on the right. The winger was perfectly placed to deliver a cross for his forwards crowding the box. Instead he chose to shoot, from a tight angle on goal. It required a shot of extreme quality to score, and his was still rising as it hit the top corner of the net. Manipur, finally, had the lead.

From thereon Manipur took complete control of the game, intent on ensuring they got all three points. They kept the pressure constantly on Gujarat, shifting flanks, and creating chances at regular intervals. In the 67th minute, the pressure told, albeit in the most extraordinary way. An innocuous cross was cleared away by Gujarat’s defence only to fall on the head of Shirak on the edge of the box. The forward headed the ball back into the box to no one in particular. Siddharth Nair messed up a routine clearance to instead volley the ball into his own goal and give Manipur a two goal advantage.

Gift Raikhan used that half chance to impress upon his players the necessity for control. Manipur had played just well enough to deserve the points, but even then Gujarat were not prepared to go away easily. In the dying moments, from range, Nair, Avi Amin and Kanani had shots at goal, each missing by narrow margins as Manipur held on for the win. Gujarat, despite two brave and creditable performances were left with no points to show for it.

AIFF Media

Santosh Trophy 2021-22 Karnataka vs Services
Source: AIFF Media

Karnataka 1-0 Services

Karnataka caused another major upset as they pipped defending champions Services 1-0 in a Group B clash of the Hero 75th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium in Malappuram on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

The winner was scored in the first-half by Ankith P and the result meant Karnataka got their revenge on Services after the defending champions had gotten the better of the side from South India in the semifinals of the previous iteration of the tournament in 2019. Services, who have now lost twice, have a mountain to climb if they are to make the last four.

Both coaches revealed that they wanted their team to attack from the word go. And that seemed evident as it was a see-saw battle in the first half. While Karnataka preferred to take the aerial route, Services opted to play grounded passes.

The first chance of the match fell to Karnataka. A move down the right saw Kamalesh P attempt a cross. It seemed to strike the hand of a Services defender and the ball rolled towards Sudheer Kotikela, who failed to direct the ball goalwards. The Karnataka players appealed for a handball but referee Pratik Mondal waved play on.

That sprung Services into action. Liton Shil had two long range attempts, but both were gathered easily by Karnataka goalkeeper Jayanthkumar Krishnamurthy.

Karnataka tried to play out from the back on a couple of occasions, and one such attempt almost ended in disaster. Moirangthem Ronaldo Singh intercepted a loose back pass and bared down on goal. His attempt, however, was straight at Jayanthkumar Krishnamurthy who saved the blushes of his teammate.

Services kept pressing hard for the first goal and it should have arrived in the 28th minute. Some fine build-up play, which included a clever dummy from Vivek Kumar, meant the ball landed at the feet of Liton Shil who had the goalkeeper at his mercy. He tried to open up his body and place the ball but Jayanthkumar Krishnamurthy was ready and made a fantastic save to ensure parity.

Liton’s gilt-edged chance was followed by a sucker punch from Karnataka. Against the run of play, Bavu Nishad TP put in a delightful cross from the right which was met by a fine header from Ankith P. He had a lot to do from a difficult angle but his header looped over the keeper to hand Karnataka the lead going into the break.

Services coach Priya Darshan must have had some stern words to tell his players and they started the better of the two. In the very first minute after the restart, Pintu Mahata released a through ball towards goal with Liton Shil in a foot race with the keeper. Jayanthkumar Krishnamurthy won the race and claimed the ball at some personal cost.

Moirangthem Ronaldo Singh, who was operating from the right in the second half, won Services’ first corner of the second half which yielded another half-chance. A smart flick at the front post by Vivek Kumar could not be met by Liton Shil. And that proved to be his final contribution as he was substituted.

Substitute Dip Majumdar had the chance to make an immediate impact. Tongbram Krishnakanta Singh’s cross from the left was met by an unmarked Dip Majumdar who failed to keep his shot down.

Karnataka’s defenders held their shape well, defended deep, and tried to play on the counter. That meant Services had to rely on long rangers and crosses as they desperately tried to look for the equaliser. Substitute Deepak Singh had a half-chance as he crept in unmarked from the right but failed to direct his header goalwards.

Services’ sustained pressure almost bore fruit in the 86th minute. A cross from the left was met by Vivek Kumar who headed it back towards the danger area with the goalkeeper woefully out of position. Defender Amal Das met the ball sweetly with his right foot and the ball was heading towards goal but Pavan S made a brilliant goal line clearance.

That proved to be the final chance of the game and Karnataka players celebrated a famous victory. The result meant Group B remains in the balance. Karnataka, with two wins under their belt, will face Manipur next in their bid to qualify for the semifinals. Services will be hoping to make amends and get their campaign back on track in their next encounter against Odisha on Monday.

AIFF Media

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