Goa made the most of the opportunities that came their way to edge Chhattisgarh 2-1 and open their account in the Group D (Qualifying Round 1) of the 67th Santosh Trophy football tournament at Nehru stadium, Cochin, Kerala on Thursday.
The match had a dull start with few interesting moves. Goa, a former five-time champion which has nearly a hundred players in action in the I-League, settled for a goalless first session but warmed up only in the second half.
After a blank first half, where both teams played cautiously, Goa held the edge in the final quarter but trooped out without a goal at the breather.
After a listless first half, Goa found the net through Inacio Colaco (63rd min) and Velito D’Cruz (68th) and Chhattisgarh’s Ram Ishwar Mahato reduced the margin in the injury time.
Goa took time to settle down. But once it did, in the second session, it was a constant threat to its rival. Perryson Rebello initiated a lot of smart moves on the left flank and kept Agnelo Colaco busy with a steady stream of passes.
Agnelo, who had shot straight to the goalkeeper early in the game, kept the Chhattisgarh defence under pressure all through the second half.
But it was Colaco who gave Goa the lead. Taking off on a sudden run down the middle, he danced past a couple of defenders, moved to the right and shot from the top of the box. The shot deflected off a defender’s leg and went in. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, a bit distracted by the deflection, could do nothing.
Velito increased the lead five minutes later. And Agnelo looked good to increase the margin a few minutes later after Joe Rodrigues sent him a back pass just outside the box. But he messed up the chance.
Chhattisgarh substitute Ram Ishwar Mahato found the net in a goalmouth melee towards the end of the game.
Earlier, Chhattisgarh had a good chance to grab the lead in the 41st minute. With the Goan goalkeeper Melroy Fernandes out of position, Bhoj Raj Chandrawanshi had an open goal in front of him. But defender Wellington Fernandes rushed in from the right and headed out the danger in the nick
Goa’s Wellington Fernandes had to be substituted by Valinto D’Silva following an injury just before the break.
However, things appeared bright for the Goans in the second half as two goals came in quick succession to ensure that the match was firmly in their grasp.
Had it not being for some valiant defending by the Chhattisgarh keeper, Goa would have scored a few more to go home with a flattering score line.
The likes of Agnelo Colaco, Velito D’Cruz and Joe Rodrigues could all have registered goals against their name, but for the rival keeper’s heroics.
However, a defensive lapse in the Goan camp during injury time allowed Chhattisgarh score a consolation goal only to reduce the score to 1-2.
Goa manager Babli Mandrekar described the victory as satisfying while praising the team for a spirited display against a fit opponent, who were physically strong and had tall players.
“We are happy to have collected full points and are looking forward to our next match on Monday (Feb 18) against Haryana,” Babli told The Navhind Times over phone from Cochin.
Meanwhile, Bihar laboured to a solitary-goal win over Himachal Pradesh in a Cluster B match of the Santosh Trophy football championship at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Kollam, on Thursday.
The win, Bihar’s second, makes it joint leader with Karnataka with six points from two matches, while Himachal, which suffered its second defeat in three matches, is on its way out of the tournament.
It was by no means a convincing performance by Bihar which at times was dominated by an improved Himachal. But Himachal missed its suspended striker Ganesh Mohan badly as there was none upfront sharp enough to convert the numerous chances created by the midfielders.
Bihar settled down quite early in the match and had the first look at the rival goal in the 10th minute when Debasish Rai muscled his way into the penalty box and squared to Ujawal Gari who blasted it out in front of an
open net. [NT]