4th Dr T Ao Memorial Football Tournament: Manipur pip hosts Meghalaya 1-0 to set up final date with Mizoram
Manipur has served as a storehouse of football talent for Indian football. Footballers from this hilly state are plying their trade for top national clubs and some are even playing for the national team.
Given their rich reputation as one of the football nerve centres of India, Manipur are touted as one of the favourites in the 4th Dr T Ao Memorial Football Tournament but their performance hasn’t really been live-up-to-their-billing kind.
The manner in which they were locked in a 1-1 draw by lowly Tripura in their opening league encounter only confirmed their below par showing. They really had to battle really hard to book a semifinal appointment with hosts Meghalaya, who have played like champions from the start of this tournament.
Meghalaya has hardly put a foot wrong going into their semifinal face-off against Manipur. It was billed as a match of the tournament – of course, both teams by virtue of being clubbed in the same group faced each other in the league stage, playing out a hard-fought goalless draw.
There was plenty of stake as both teams readied themselves for the kick-off. It was Meghalaya who enjoyed the early exchanges, not giving Manipur any opportunity to control possession.
Meghalaya exuded a lot of promise in the 3rd minute when Donbok Khymdeit darted into the box and rifled in a potent shot, which was well saved by Manipur goalkeeper S Dinakumar.
Meghalaya captain Niwan-O-Gatphoh essayed a nice through ball to Barland R Syngkon, who lost control of the ball when he only had S Dinakumar to beat.
The match soon generated one-way traffic as the home side piled on the pressure on Manipur, keeping their defence extremely busy.
Milancy Khongstia sprinted down the right in the 30th minute but was unable to send in a measured pass to Khymdeit, who was lurking near an open Manipur goalmouth.
Having soaked up all the pressure, Manipur picked up the pieces in the closing stages of the first half. F Lal Zarzo attempted a bicycle kick, which saw the ball sail harmlessly over the cross bar.
Both teams were locked 0-0 at half-time.
Niwan-O-Gatphoh shouldered a lot of responsibility in the second half. He created a nice move in the first minute of the second half dodging two defenders but failed to find his man – Khongstia – who was left unmarked.
Meghalya called the shots so far but the script turned horribly wrong for them when Manipur, against the run of play, scored in the 50th minute.
Md Sohail unleashed a powerful shot beating Meghalaya custodian Alwyn Pathweth all ends up, making the most of a great assist from the left flank.
The goal silenced the vociferous local crowd at the JN Stadium.
Meghalaya had enough time not just to restore parity but also win the match, but Manipur held out the remaining forty minutes with aplomb.
Manipur would now clash with reigning champions Mizoram in the final.