N.P. Pradeep’s brace put Maharashtra in the semifinals and ended last year’s runner-up Tamil Nadu’s campaign in the 67th Santosh Trophy National football championship at the Lal Bahadur Stadium here on Tuesday.
Former champion Maharashtra won its crucial Group B quarterfinal league encounter 2-1 to top the table with an all-win record. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, needing a win to progress, never looked like achieving it and played passively throughout.
To add to its woes, Tamil Nadu was a man down within 20 minutes when R. Nirmal Kumar was sent off for a second bookable offence. The team quickly shed its aggressive approach and depended mainly on counterattacks to mount pressure on Maharashtra. The latter didn’t do anything spectacular in the first half though it had the better of the exchanges. Mohammed Rafi often got into goal-scoring positions but messed it up with wild shooting.
A blistering 25-yarder from Pradeep sailed over the bar, as the former international showed first signs of intent. The first real chance for Tamil Nadu came in the 40th minute when a foul on A. Raegan resulted in a free-kick just outside the box. Charles, however, blasted the ball out.
Lively second half
The second half was lively with Tamil Nadu coming out of its shell. However, it was Maharashtra which had the first look at the goal. Rafi, helped by some poor defending, unleashed a powerful shot which was parried away by Tamil Nadu goalkeeper Arun Pradeep.
At the other end, Tamil Nadu’s Karthick moved up the left flank and arrowed in a precise cross.
This was headed towards the goal by Raegan, but the alert Maharashtra defence cleared it away.
In the 75th minute, a needless foul by Tamil Nadu captain Satish on Rafi saw Maharashtra earn a free-kick from 20 yards. Pradeep’s powerful, curling shot beat the Tamil Nadu goalkeeper.
Though Tamil Nadu’s response was muted, the side equalised through a fortuitous goal in the 85th minute. Raegan’s speculative volley from 25 yards saw Maharashtra goalkeeper Rajiv Miryla mess up a simple collection.
Following a fast break, Rafi and Pradeep exchanged passes and Pradeep entered the box and chipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper for the match-winner in the 88th minute.
Jharkhand holds Goa
Twice in arrears, a gritty Jharkhand came back to hold 10-man Goa 2-2 in the other inconsequential Group B encounter. After a goalless first half during which the only incident of note came when Girish Naik was sent off for a hard tackle, Agnel Colaco spectacularly lobbed the ball from 30 yards to snatch the lead for Goa in the 68th minute.
Three minutes later, Jharkhand equalised through Ramesh Kujur’s snap strike. Joe Rodrigues headed Goa into the lead in the 81st minute, but Bosen Murmu found the back of the net with a long-ranger in injury time to earn a praiseworthy draw for his side.
Maharashtra 2 (N.P. Pradeep 75 & 88) bt Tamil Nadu 1 (A. Raegan 85).
Goa 2 (Agnel Colaco 68, Joe Rodrigues 81) drew with Jharkhand 2 (Ramesh Kujur 71, Bosen Murmu 90).
Final standings (read as played, won, lost, draw, goals for, goals against, points): Maharashtra 3-3-0-0-9-2-9, Tamil Nadu 3-1-1-1-4-3-4, Goa 3-1-1-1-2-5-1, Jharkhand 3-0-3-0-3-9-1.
Wednesday’s matches: Group D: Manipur v Bengal; Punjab v Karnataka.