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Maharashtra down Punjab in do-or-die match

Written by: Ravish R Narvekar

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Kerala became the second team to qualify for the semi-final...

Vijith Shetty scored in the second half to keep Maharashtra in contention for a semi-final spot as the western state edged out Punjab 1-0 in the 71st Santosh Trophy match played at the GMC Stadium Bambolim earlier today.

It was a must-win match for Maharashtra as they had lost their last two matches against Mizoram and Railways. While, Punjab had won against Railways and drawn with Mizoram and Kerala and they were also in the similar situation.

Maharashtra coach Godfred Pereira made two changes to his side as Vikas Zanje was back in the starting XI. He also brought in Shrikant Veeramallu replacing his own son Astle Pereira. While Punjab tactician Kuldeep Singh also made the same number of changes as Arshdeep Singh and Gurtej Singh made the cut.

Maharashtra started well as they were the first to look at the goal. Vijit Shetty saw his shot miss the target by few inches. A minute later, Aaron D’Costa tried to find Veeramallu in the box with a low cross but Punjab defender Arshdeep cleared it on time. D’Costa was in the action again when his back header was entering the top corner but Punjab keeper Paramjit Singh pushed it for a corner.

Punjab also tried to maintain pressure on the opponents as they came up with two back-to-back attacks but they never looked serious in the final third. However, their next two attacks were potent. First, Manvir Singh found Harpal Singh with a curling cross in the box, but Harpal’s blistering shot missed the target narrowly. Manvir was in action again when he dribbled past two defenders and set up a perfect through pass to Rajbir, but the striker shot on advancing keeper Aditya Mishra instead of directing  the ball into an empty goal.

At the half hour mark, Maharashtra had a great chance to take the lead when Veeramallu initiated the move with a through pass to Das on the flank. The defender smoothly sent a low cross to Abhishek Ambekar who failed to control his shot from close range as the ball flew over.

On crossing over, the match was restricted to midfield play. Both the sides tried to keep the ball but as it progressed, Maharashtra dominated with better possession and attacking football.

Like in the first half, Maharashtra were the first to create a chance in the second session. Ambekar made a brilliant run on the wing dribbling past few defenders and curled into the feet of Shetty. The midfielder was in a good position to score but his shot was wide from inside the box.

At the other end, Punjab almost scored but Maharashtra keeper Mishra nicely blocked Rajbir’s shot in a one-on-one situation.

After crossing the hour mark, the western state became more aggressive in attack and found the goal in the 67th minute. D’Costa showed excellent footwork in the box and with a fake move to his right released the ball to Shetty, keeping the midfielder with only the keeper to beat. Shetty made no mistake this time to shoot past the keeper Paramjit and sent his teammates into celebration.

The Northern state tried hard to come back into the match but they failed to break Maharashtra’s  backline. The Punjab gaffer used all his substitutes bringing in Vijay, Gurinderpal Singh and Prabjot Singh in the span of 10 minutes but Maharashtra defenders stood strong till the last minutes.

“It was a great victory for us. This win means a lot to us as these three points kept us alive in the competition. My team played a really good game after losing the first two matches. We will go all out against Kerala as we need a win there.” Maharashtra coach Pereira said after the full-time whistle.

In the other match played at Tilak Maidan Vasco, Kerala registered a thumping 4-1 win over Mizoram.  Jobby Justin opened the tally for Kerala in the 7th minute. Two minutes later Jishnu Bala Krishnan doubled their lead. Substitute Asharudeen scored two in the second half and made it 4-0 for his side. While Lalrammawia Rammawia managed to pull one back for the Northeast side in the 86th minute. Mizoram were forced to play with ten men for more than 60 minutes as their midfielder Lalfakzuala Fakzuala was sent off when he was shown second yellow card for a reckless tackle.

Kerala became the first team to qualify from Group B with a match in hand. They sit at the top of the table with seven points from three matches. Punjab are second with five points from four matches, while Mizoram are next to them with four points from three matches. Railways and Maharashtra are on fourth and fifth position respectively with three points from three outings.

 

Published: Sun Mar 19, 2017 09:28 PM IST

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