The urge to attain national supremacy for the first ever time is driving the opponents — Tamil Nadu and Mizoram — in the first semifinal clash of the 68th National football championship for the Santosh Trophy, which gets underway here at the Kanchenjungha Stadium on Friday.
In another interesting match-up, the second semifinal later on the same day, will see two former champions — Maharashtra and Railways — trying to regain the title after a long break.
The two matches promise absorbing fare, especially, in the way the opponents had the measure of each other a day ahead of the actual action. Mizoram, which is making its first semifinal outing, was the best team on form in the league stage. It won all its matches before reaching the semifinals. The North Eastern giant has not only won all the four group league matches in the final phase, but has also prevailed over the regional opponents in the zonal stage.
Tamil Nadu, which has reached the final twice, has traditionally been a strong side. It has, in this edition, qualified from a strong group where it outperformed teams like Punjab and Goa to reach the semifinals. Tamil Nadu enjoys a slight edge over the ‘inexperienced’ Mizoram, which is making its first appearance in the decisive stage.Virtual final
Calling it the virtual final, Tamil Nadu coach C.M. Ranjith said his team is prepared for the “real match” against Mizoram. “The boys are in the match mood now and we are looking ahead to a good contest,” he said hoping for a good comeback from his side after the loss in the final league match.
“We have put behind that loss and are looking to give our best against the most successful side in the league stage,” the seasoned Tamil Nadu coach said while adding that there are no injury problems in the side.
“If we can keep the shape and structure of our performance of the league stage, then we hope to pull off another win. Tamil Nadu is a tough side but we hope to overcome them on our own merit,” said the Mizoram coach H. Vanlalthangla. “We have a good selection of players who have shown the maturity to win against established opponents. We hope to carry the good work forward,” the Mizoram coach added.Another unbeaten side
Railways, the Group B topper, is another unbeaten side emerging from the league stage. The Railways coach Souren Dutta looked back 26 years when he, as a player, figured in the team’s last entry in the final (in 1987-88).
“We have remained unbeaten in the league stage and the boys are eager to give their best to get into the final,” Dutta said. Maharashtra is banking on the selection of seasoned I-League campaigners, who have helped the team win three matches in the league stage.
“Railways has the momentum but if we stick to our own game plan we can overcome any challenge,” Maharashtra coach Irenio Vaz said. The two opponents have strong midfields and the match will be decided in favour of the one which does the best in the creative zone.
Semifinals schedule: Tamil Nadu vs Mizoram, 2.30 p.m.; Railways vs Maharashtra, 6.30 p.m.
Both the matches will be telecast live on DD Sports.