A chance to be a part of the finale of the country’s top youth footballing competition was up for grabs as four teams locked horns against each other in the U18 I-League semi-finals on Friday.
SF1: AIFF Elite Academy 13-12 United SC [After penalty shootout]
Goalkeeper Samik Mitra was the hero for Elite Academy as he kept his nerves in the penalty shootout after coming on as a substitute in the 90th minute. He saved Rahul Kuddes Purakaite’s spot-kick to win his team the prized ticket to the final.
Defending champions AIFF Elite Academy were faced with the task of stopping United SC in the first of the two semifinals that took place on the same day. AIFF Elite Academy coach Floyd Pinto had the task of organising his defence against an unbeaten team that had already notched 17 goals from 3 group games.
Elite Academy came out all guns blazing as the match kicked off but they found it difficult to trouble the net. Skipper Edmund Lalrindika tested the opposition keeper as early as the 7th minute but goalkeeper Aditya Patra was alert enough to get his firm hands over the ball.
Midway through the half Joysana Singh attempted a delicious lob that beat the keeper but not the onrushing defender Sujoy Oraow who cleared it off the line.
The tables turned in the second half as United SC came out all guns blazing. The Purple Brigade finally came closest to scoring in the 59th minute. Gaurab Das left his marker flat footed as he picked up an unmarked Rana Pandey in the middle but the latter couldn’t convert his golden chance.
Both teams continued to press for an opening goal as the game drew to a close but there weren’t to be any goals from open play. As the referee blew the final whistle, teams stepped up to take 15 spot kicks apiece. Elite Academy proved their mettle in the tiebreaker, outscoring their opponents 13-12 in spot kicks.
SF2: East Bengal 3-2 Salgaocar
East Bengal and Salgaocar FC battled it out a few hours later in the second semifinal of the U18 I-League this season. Both teams, vying to be first-time finalists in the competition, played out an exciting 90 minutes in which East Bengal outscored their opposition 3-2.
It did not take long for the Red and Golds to open scoring as Manoj Mohammad picked out teammate Suranjit who slotted past Nora Fernandes in the 13th minute. East Bengal’s sustained pressure was too much for Salgaocar’s deep sitting defence as Bidyashagar scored from Prakash Sarkar’s pass to give his team a two-goal lead on the brink of half-time.
East Bengal added a third goal not long after the restart. It was Suranjit once again who got on the end of Manoj’s pass to make it 3-0.
Salgaocar’s response was instant and after going close on a few occasions, they finally grabbed a goal back in the 80th minute in the form of a rebound which was tucked away by substitute Andrus.
Salgaocar’s continuous pressure yielded another goal a few minutes later, thanks to a solo run by Liston but East Bengal stood firm in the final minutes of the game to book a place in the final against defending champions AIFF Elite Academy.
Goal spoke to both coaches after the match.
“Our boys are new to this. This is their first major tournament so I’m happy for them”, said Ranjan Chowdhary, coach of East Bengal.
Speaking of the decision to not play Extra Time after 90 minutes, he said he respected the decision made by the organisers.
Salgaocar coach Anthony Perreira meanwhile blamed the organisers for scheduling the match in extreme conditions. He also felt his players fought hard in the second half.
The final of U-18 I-League kicks off at 3:30 PM at Barasat Stadium, Kolkata on Sunday.