For a few minutes on Wednesday evening, the Services footballers were cheering Madhya Pradesh wildly from the stands. Lalian Mawia clapped while teammate Dipak Shresthra whistled every time the MP boys moved forward.
Services had a good reason to cheer and encourage MP, a team it had whipped 6-0 just a couple of days ago. Its entry into the semifinal depended largely on the Railways-MP league match. And with the railmen scoring three quick goals in the second session that appeared to be in a bit of trouble.
Thankfully, Railways finished the game with only a 5-0 verdict and Services was in the last-four stage and on course to defend its title which came after more than 50 years in Cuttack last year.
Services, which defeated Odisha 2-0 earlier in the evening, took the lone berth with a superior goal difference in Group C’. It had scored eight goals from its three games without conceding any while Railways had scored seven and let in one. The Services-Railways game ended goalless a few days ago.
Services will meet Punjab in the second semifinal on Friday while host Kerala will play Maharashtra in the first last-four game on Thursday.
Railways led by a lone goal, scored by Sibra Narzary, at half time but its next three came in a 16-minute spell in the second session. And that was when the Services boys grew a bit jittery. The last Railways goal came in the final minute of injury time.
Services had muffed an early penalty against Odisha but still it did not sweat. The quiet game came to life when the referee awarded Services a penalty for a Fayazuddin Shah handball. But the Odisha goalkeeper Umar Khan pulled off a fine save, diving to his left to deny V.V. Farhad.
Striker Farhad, however, had a big hand in Services taking the lead towards the end of the first half.
After collecting a long ball, he sent a cross to Lalramnieng Mawia on the right. Mawia made no mistake with the left-footer.
Farhad increased the margin in the 75th minute, Lalramnieng Mawia feeding him from the left this time.
Lalramneing Mawia had a good chance to increase the tally but he failed to connect a fine cross from the right from Lalian Mawia in the 80th minute and five minutes later, his solid free kick was tipped over by the custodian Umar Khan.
Services 2 (Lalramnieng Mawia 45+2, V.V. Farhad 75th) bt Odisha 0; Railways 5 (Sibra Narzary 18th, S.K. Mustakim 55th, P.C. Riju 65th, Amrinder Singh 71st, Balraj Singh 90+3) bt Madhya Pradesh 0.
Thursday’s match: First semifinal: Kerala vs. Maharashtra.