Ludhiana: Goa play Punjab and Services cross swords with Karnataka as the Hero Santosh Trophy, the 78-year-old National Championship, reaches its business end of the 2018-19 season with the semi-finals, today, for a spot in the final.
After a rigorous number of Zonal Qualifiers, a total of 10 teams made it to the finals. Services, Goa, Delhi, Meghalaya and Odisha were clubbed in Group A, while Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Sikkim and home side Punjab were placed in Group B.
Group A turned out to be a straightforward affair, with Services and Goa finishing with 10 points apiece, four ahead of their nearest opponents Delhi, with the former finishing as group champions because of a higher goal difference, as the two sides were tied on the head-to-head front.
Group B was a more complicated, as Punjab, with the support of the home crowd behind their back, shot ahead of the rest of the pack on the last match day, beating Karnataka 4-3 in a thrilling encounter. While the hosts topped the group with nine points, both Karnataka and Maharashtra finished with seven points apiece, the latter thrashing Sikkim 5-0 to reach their current tally.The two sides had drawn their game, and had even finished the group equal on goal difference. However, Karnataka went through as they had scored one goal more in the entire group.
Goa and Punjab–the two traditional heavyweights are set to face-off against each other in yet another thrilling clash. This encounter would normally be worthy of a final itself, as the eight-time champions Punjab take on five-time champs Goa.
While Sukhpreet Singh has been on form for Punjab, banging in three goals in the Group Stage, Goa will be banking on two of their big guns to get on the score sheet. Their top scorer in the tournament so far has been 19-year-old Pune FC academy prodigy Lalawmpuia, who currently plays for FC Goa Reserves in the Hero 2nd Division. The Mizoram-born striker has scored four goals so far.
Apart from the exuberance of Lalawmpuia, Goa also has the experience of Joachim Abranches up front. The 33-year-old has brought in his years of experience at top clubs like East Bengal, FC Pune City, and FC Goa to score three goals.
The mix of youth and experience of Goa, and the vigour of a home side that already has plenty of experience in winning the Santosh Trophy could make this a mouth-watering affair.