This match had everything. An early goal for Services that left the huge Goan faithful fearing another heartbreak, a cliff hanger of an atmosphere that left every fan at the edge of their seats, a number of missed chances that left Goa coach Mateus Costa pulling the hair off his head and finally, a young teenage lad from Taleigao, Akeraj Martins, carrying the weight of the Goan faithful on his shoulders, making a dazzling run on the left, beating the onrushing keeper and lobbing the ball over him to find the back of the net leaving the huge crowd in raptures. Cajetan Fernandes, then put the result beyond doubt with another clinical finish and the Goan crowd heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Goa started the match needing a point at the minimum to ensure a semi-final berth. Goa gaffer Mateus Costa made two changes to the starting line-up that disappointed against Chandigarh. Glan Martins replaced an injured Goa captain Francis Fernandes and Latesh Mandrekar replaced Leander D’Cunha. Goa got off to the worst possible start when they found themselves a goal down before they even settled, ex-Delhi Dynamos player Arjun Tudu beating Bruno Colaco from the narrowest of angles to score after just seven minutes. Goa then suffered another blow when stopper back Leny Pereira had to be replaced by Cajetan Fernandes due to a tight hamstring. Then began Goa’s profligacy in front of goal. It started with a Brian Mascarenhas free kick going just over the bar, a Liston Fernandes cross eluding both Aaren D’Silva and Brian Mascarenhas by inches and Latesh Mandrekar blazing his shot wide of the keeper after Liston had played in a brilliant through ball. Goa’s fans really started to worry though towards the end of the first half when first, in the 38th minute, Aaren D’Silva missed an absolute sitter after Liston did all the hard work and fed the ball to him on a platter, and then a minute before half time when a Peter Carvalho header off a corner was cleared off the line by Services skipper Rary Raj.
In the second half, Services with a goal up preferred to defend and beat Goa on the counter. And they nearly went 2-0 up when Arjun Tudu beat the offside trap but Bruno Colaco made a brilliant save to keep Goa in the game. Goa were then thrown a lifeline and given a numerical advantage with twenty-two minutes left on the clock when Services skipper Rary Raj was given marching orders for a second yellow, however chances continued to go begging. Just when everyone thought that this would be another Santosh Trophy heartbreak for Goa, in stepped the man of the moment Akeraj Martins. The Sporting Clube de Goa striker received a high ball from Peter Carvalho that eluded the Services defenders, took one touch, controlled the ball, went past the onrushing keeper and lobbed the ball over him into the side netting sending the Goa bench and the cheering crowd into ecstasy. Two minutes before the final whistle, Cajetan Fernandes calmed Goa’s nerves scoring the second goal after some brilliant combination play from Glan Martins and Akeraj Martins
Meanwhile at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco, Bengal confirmed top spot in the group scoring a 2-0 win over Meghalaya. Shaikhom Singh put Bengal ahead in the 8th minute when Manvir Singh laid it on a platter for him to tap in past the goalkeeper. Late into the match with six minutes left on the clock Manvir Singh put the result beyond doubt after dribbling past two defenders and completing the finish.
Goa take on Kerala in the second semi-final on Thursday at 1900 hours while Bengal would have to wait till tomorrow to find out whom they play in the first semi-final on the same day at 1500 hours. Both matches will be played at the Bambolim Sports Complex.
Fixtures for 21-03-2017:
Railways v Mizoram, GMC Stadium, 1600 hours
Maharashtra v Kerala, Tilak Maidan, 1600 hours