Federation Cup Semi-Final: Shillong Lajong 0-1 Salgaocar – Late Chidi Strike Takes Goan Giants To The Final

I-League holders Salgaocar beat division two champions 1-0 in the first semi-final of the 33rd Federation Cup at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata...

Nigerian striker Edeh Chidi scored the winner in the 90th minute to take the Goan giants to Thursday’s final, where they will face the winner between East Bengal and Prayag United.

Lajong coach Pradhyum Reddy started with his tried and tested 4-4-2 as Nigerian Christopher Chizoba and John Menyongar from Liberia started together upfront.

At the other end, Karim Bencherifa made two changes to the team that beat Pailan Arrows 3-0 as Biswajit Saha came in for Khelemba Meetei while Mehrajjuddin Wadoo started in central midfield in place of Tomba Singh.

Rahul Kumar slotted in at center back alongside skipper Luciano Sobrosa with Ryuji Sueoka operating just behind lone striker Edeh Chidi in the 4-2-3-1 system.

Both teams started the game cautiously but Salgaocar did have an opening as early as the third minute as Chidi made a fine run to get behind the Lajong defence but his cut back from the right didn’t find any Salgaocar player.

Lajong tried to cause problems with their pace but there was little space for their attackers as Salgaocar defended solidly as a team.

Japanese playmaker Sueoka slowly started to influence the game and went close with a snapshot after Chidi was stopped in his tracks by defender Zowmingliana Ralte.

However even Sueoka struggled to open up the game as Lajong worked really hard in numbers to stop the I-League champions from creating any clear cut opportunity.

The north-eastern club was playing on the break but it took them 25 minutes to get behind the Salgaocar back four as a wonderful run from left back Lalchhuanmawia saw him get into a great position but his cross was headed behind for a corner by Sobrosa.

Chidi looked the liveliest player for Bencherifa’s side as he kept the Lajong defenders on his toes with his movement and physicality. 

After the half an hour mark, the Nigerian played a decent ball for Gilbert on the right flank but the young winger couldn’t produce a good delivery.

Neither side looked like scoring but the Goan giants did have a decent opening three minutes before the break when Chidi was one-on-one with Zowmingliana Ralte but the Lajong defender brought him down to give away a free-kick and earn a yellow card.

However Sueoka hit the free-kick straight into the hands of Lajong custodian Lalthuammawia Ralte as a dull first half ended goalless.

Salgaocar coach Bencherifa made one change at the interval as Ishfaq Ahmed replaced Gilbert Olivera. The Kashmiri slotted in on the left wing while Francis moved to the right flank.

The Goan side started the second half brightly as Francis made a good run on the right flank but his low cross was easily cleared by the Lajong backline. 

Ten minutes into the second period, Lajong’s Christopher attempted a shot but it was blocked by Sobrosa and from the same move, Salgaocar counter-attacked  which ended with Chidi’s teasing ball in the box stopped by a last ditch tackle from Subhas Singh.

India’s Karanjit Singh was first called into action close to the hour mark as he had to palm away a decent effort from Johny Meyongar.

Pradhyum Reddy introduced James Giblee in place of Christopher and by the midway point of the second period; it was Lajong in the ascendancy as Salgaocar looked a tired outfit. 

The club from Shillong had a good spell of possession in the Salgaocar half but it was the Goan side who could have taken the lead as Sueoka found himself one-on-one with Lajong keeper Lalthuammawia Ralte after Aibor Khongjee had misjudged a long diagonal.

However the Japanese uncharacteristically attempted a weak shot which hit the body of Ralte and went for a corner.

At the other end, Lajong too had a good chance as left winger Eugeneson got behind the Salgaocar defence and his square pass beat Karanjit also, however the danger was cleared away by Rahul Kumar.

Lajong kept passing the ball well in midfield as Salgaocar had to get bodies behind to keep the clean sheet.

Bencherifa’s boys had a decent opportunity in the 83rd minute when Chidi’s cross found an unmarked Sueoka but the former Mohun Bagan player’s poor evening continued as he headed his effort off target.

Lajong could have taken the lead in the last five minutes of the 90 but were denied twice by the super reflexes of Karanjit.

The former JCT player first saved Johny Meyongar’s effort and then parried away Boithang Haokip’s goal bound shot from just outside the box.

In between those saves, Bencherifa introduced Junior Elijah in place of Sueoka and the Nigerian made an instant impact in the 90th minute.

The former Sporting striker sent a long ball into the Lajong box which Chidi didn’t look like reaching as goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte came out well but he lost his balance which allowed Chidi to find the back of an empty net and give his side the 1-0 advantage.

Lajong failed to find a response in stoppage time as Salgaocar held on to reach their first Federation Cup final since 1997.