Bengal will face the runners-up of Group B in the last four.

A fine second-half brace from Md Fardin Ali Molla helped West Bengal ease past Rajasthan by a 3-0 margin in Group A game of the 75th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy 2022 at the Kottappadi Football Stadium in Malappuram here on Sunday. The win meant West Bengal joined Kerala in the last four.

The scoreline could have been much more emphatic if not for the profligacy displayed by the Bengal players throughout the game. They created numerous chances in the first half but could not break the deadlock going into the break.

The first chance for the 32-time champions came in the very first minute. A cross from the left wing found Srikumar Karjee in acres of space inside the box but he could not get a meaningful touch to divert the ball goalwards.

Bengal’s first corner in the second minute of the game should have yielded their first goal, but Sujit Singh blazed over the bar from close range. Bengal players tried to play the killer pass despite Rajasthan defending deep with numbers but their final product was lacking.

They resorted to playing down the flanks and utilised Jay Baz’s crossing prowess to create scoring opportunities. Bengal’s hero from their previous match Mahitosh Roy was guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances.

West Bengal players seemed to be playing within themselves, and their build-up play was often too slow or too elaborate which made it easier for the Rajasthan players to get a block in. Against the run of play, Rajasthan’s Imran Khan found some space inside the box but his snapshot went over the bar.

Right on the stroke of half-time, Bengal created two glorious chances. The first one fell to Dilip Orawn who was placed right at the goal-line. It seemed easier to score than miss from that position but somehow the attacker contrived to blaze his shot over.

Next it was Md Fardin Ali Molla’s chance to squander a very presentable opportunity. A brilliant whipped cross from the right flank by Jay Baz found the ATK Mohun Bagan wide man in space at the back post. He tried to go for an acrobatic finish instead of opting for an easier method and ended up shooting over.

The second-half saw a much improved display from the Bengal players. Seconds after the restart, Bengal won a penalty. Dilip Orawn danced his way into the box and just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was tripped and the referee M Sugandar had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Md Fardin Ali Molla stepped up and slotted home the resultant spot-kick. Goalkeeper Gajraj Singh guessed the right way but the young attacker’s shot had too much power. There was relief throughout the Bengal camp with coach Ranjan Bhattacharjee down on his knees to celebrate.

It did not take Bengal long to extend their lead. In the 59th minute, a fine cross from the right was met by Sujit Singh whose attempt was saved by substitute keeper Maninder Singh. But from the rebound, Md Fardin Ali Molla made no mistake and notched up his second successive brace of the tournament. He is now the second top-scorer of the tournament with four goals to his name.

Bengal made quite a few alterations towards the end of the game in a bid to test out their bench strength. The game lost a bit of momentum due to the numerous changes. However, Bengal were not done and in the 81st minute, they extended their lead even further.

Sujit Singh had numerous chances to score and he finally got on the scoresheet after brilliantly placing the ball with his left foot, just outside the reach of a diving Maninder Singh. Rajasthan had one final chance in the dying moments of added time to reduce the arrears. Imran Khan’s shot was saved by Bengal’s substitute goalie Raja Burman.

Rajasthan’s campaign in the tournament after a gap of 34 years came to a disappointing end, but the group will look to make the most of this opportunity in the future. Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacharjee, however, will be pleased with his side’s defensive display on the day but he knows there are improvements to be done at both ends of the pitch if the team are to reach the final of the competition. They will face the runners-up team of Group B in the semifinals of the Santosh Trophy 2022.

Punjab beat Meghalaya, end campaign on high

Amarpreet Singh’s goal secured Punjab a narrow victory over Meghalaya in their final group game in the 75th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium today.  

The importance of the fixture had petered away even before the players took to the field, West Bengal’s convincing win over Rajasthan knocking Punjab out of the tournament. Nonetheless Punjab were intent on salvaging pride and letting everyone know their rich legacy in the tournament was intact. 

Within forty seconds of kickoff, they had their first crack at goal, Amarpreet Singh running for a long ball from the back, into the Meghalaya box. The forward ran through, but made the angle tough on himself by not taking a first touch, and hit on the volley his shot drifted wide. 

That was to be one of very few clear chances in the first half for them as Meghalaya slowly took control of the game, playing elaborate passes and moving forward at pace. In the fifth minute, captain Hardy Cliff had a crack from distance only to see his effort go wide. As the half wore on, Meghalaya’s forwards constantly asked questions of Punjab’s defence, Kynsaibor Lhuid and Shano Tariang at the forefront of most of them.

Some superb wingplay saw Saveme Tariang float a superb cross into the box in the 19th minute of the game, only for Tariang to head wide, despite rising high and meeting the ball perfectly. A few minutes later, Tariang was guilty of another miss, this time played into space by Kynsaibor’s cheeky backheel that took two Punjab defenders out of the game. The forward again, shot high and wide. Meghalaya were getting closer, while Punjab were riding their luck and their defenec’s guile. Both the teams headed into the break locked in a goalless stalemate.

Much like the first half, Punjab came out bursting with energy in the second too. The instructions were clear, hold possession, play through the back and allow Amarpreet space to run into. Within two minutes, they had the lead. After some intricate passing, Indervir Singh dropped deep to pick up the ball near the half-line, looked up and played a perfect pass into space behind Meghalaya’s defence.

Amarpreet, had made a well disguised diagonal run towards the box, catching Meghalay’s defence napping, picked up the pass and ran into the box. Amidst shouts pleading him to shoot, he kept calm, almost losing the opportunity to pull the triger. But when he did, five yards from goal he aimed for the far bottom corner, and ensured he scored. Punjab had their lead. 

Meghalaya, for all their possession, had a hill to climb to salvage anything from the game. Punjab were, for the most part, happy to let them hold the ball, and kept attacking on the counter to sow confusion and caution in their ranks. Meghalaya could have equalised almost immediately, if their forwards had their shooting boots on. another cross, this time fro the left, drifted between Tariang and the goalkeeper Moses Antony, the latter the winner of the contest.

In the 72nd minute Amarpreet, now bursting with confidence, played Jashandeep Singh through with a beautiful chip from midfield. The forward through clean on goal couldn’t bring the ball under his control and the chance slipped away. In the 75th, the roles were reversed. Jashandeep played Indervir into space on the right and the forward cut a perfect pass back to Amarpreet who just needed to keep his shot on target. He shot high. 

Despite having scored the opener, Amarpreet, with a little more luck and calm could’ve had a hat trick on the night. In the 78th the forward cut in, having collected an inward pass at the top of the box, leaving two defenders in his wake. He shot straight at the gloves of Frolicson Dkhar and the goalkeeper messed up a routine save, letting the ball through his fingers. Fortunately for him, the ball hit the post and drifted out of play. 

In the 85th came Meghalaya’s best opportunity of the game, Figo Syndai curling a brilliant freekick from the right corner of the box towards Punjab’s goal. The ball was heading to the top right corner, only for a diving Moses to cme and punch it away. In the process of making the save though, the goalkeeper collided with the post and hurt himself. The injury forced Punjab into a substitution, Harpreet Singh coming on as replacement.

Despite the long amount of injury time, Punjab held on, ending their Santosh Trophy campaign on a high. 

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