Mizoram scored two goals in extra time to upstage a strong Tamil Nadu 3-1, and enter the final, for the first time, of the 68th National football championship for the Santosh Trophy.
In the second semifinal, Ehtesham Ahmed saved two shots to help Railways down Maharashtra 5-3 via the tie-breaker after the teams were locked 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes of regulation and extra-time.
The first semifinal at the Kanchenjungha Stadium on Friday saw Mizoram winning a battle of attrition. The North-East major erased a goal deficit before firing two more in the extended session after the regulation 90 minutes saw the sides deadlocked 1-1.
Tamil Nadu, the more dominant side in the first half, took the lead through its prolific striker A. Raegan in injury-time (45+2). But the South Zone champion failed to sustain the momentum after the break. Mizoram made a determined comeback and found the equaliser through substitute David Lalrinmuana in the 61st minute.
Tamil Nadu looked jaded in the extra time. Mizoram captain Zico Zoremsanga put his team in the lead in the 94th minute before another substitute F. Lalrinpuia sealed the fate of the match in the 119th minute.
When Raegan finished a well-orchestrated move in injury time of the first half, few doubted Tamil Nadu’s inventiveness and creativity.
Lalrinmuana, inducted in the 40th minute to spruce up the midfield, could count himself lucky to find the equaliser, which was rather a result of goalkeeper A. Arun Pradeep’s tentativeness.
The Tamil Nadu custodian reacted late to a speculative shot by Lalrinmuana, from around 35 yards, and made a half-hearted dive that allowed the ball free access into the goal.
Tamil Nadu would also rue a 58th-minute opportunity when a good cross from captain P. Sudhakar on the Mizoram goalmouth was cleared from the line by defender Ricky Lallawmawma.
Mizoram, mobilising its attacks on the flanks after the equaliser, completed its dominance in the extra time when Tamil Nadu showed little initiative.
“I asked my players to show the right spirit and behave properly on the field. That may have been the reason why they were subdued initially,” said Mizoram coach H. Vanlalthangla, recollecting the league match against Tamil Nadu in the 2012 edition in which five players (three from Mizoram and two from TN) were sent off for violence.
“They played well in the first half but we did well by re-grouping in the second. Bringing Lalrinmuana in early also proved well as he did a good job in the midfield,” the Mizoram coach added.
“We were on top in the first half but the goalkeeping error affected our prospects. But overall I am very proud of my boys,” said Tamil Nadu coach C.M. Ranjit.
In the second match, Maharashtra was the dominant side in the first half and gained the lead utilising a greater share of ball possession. Mohammad Shafiq found the target for Maharashtra in an unlikely manner in the 24th minute. The Maharashtra left-back went on the overlap and tried a low long-ranger which the Railways goalkeeper Ahmed spilled into his own goal, after having caught the ball on the first attempt.
Railways started regrouping midway through the second half, especially after the introduction of fleet-footed Anil Kisku in the wings in the 67th minute.
The midfielder won a penalty in the 70th minute when he was brought down by Maharashtra goalkeeper C. Praveen. Another substitute Sushil Kisku scored from the spot to fetch the equaliser.
In the tie-breaker, all the Railways players — P.C. Riju, Y. Raju Singh, Dipankar Das and Sushil Kisku – found the target successfully. On the other hand, Maharashtra saw Ahmed saving the first two attempts of Praneel Mendon and Vijith Shetty. Paresh Shivalkar and Linekar Machado were on target for Maharashtra.
The results: Mizoram 3 (David Lalrinmuana 61, Zico Zoremsanga 94, F. Lalrinpuia 119) bt Tamil Nadu 1 (A. Raegan 45+2).
Railways 5(1) (Sushil Kisku 70-pen) bt Maharashtra 3(1) (Mohammad Shafiq 24).