BAMBOLIM: Two goals in the final 10 minutes of the game saw Goa come from behind to register a hard fought 2-1 win over defending champions Services in the Santosh Trophy, at Athletic Stadium, Bambolim, on Monday.
Cajetan Fernandes scored an 89th minute match-winner after Akeraj Martins cancelled out Services early lead scored through Arjun Tudu in the eight minute.
While the spectators were gnashing their teeth in hope for a turnaround after Services were reduced to 10 men in the 66th minute, Goa produced a brilliant display in the final 10 minutes of the game that kept their hunt for the Santosh Trophy alive.
Needing just a point to qualify for the semi-finals, Goa dominated the opening minutes showing grit and determination to score early in the game.
Coach Mateus Costa started the match with four U-21 players with Aaren Silva and Liston Colaco pairing upfront. Latesh was shifted to right flank in place of Franciso Fernandes, while Assumption Suarez continued his trait at left back.
Coach Mateus escalated Peter Carvalho in the midfield on the return of Leny Pereira in defence who paired with Melvin Lobo. However, the central defender was seen struggling on the pitch and was subbed off just after conceding the goal.
Services took a surprise lead in the eighth minute when Jain P dispossessed Nicolau Colaco and played a through pass to Arjun, and the latter’s low left footer went past helpless Goa keeper Bruno Colaco.
With the young Assumption strong on the left flank, Services had regular inroads from the Goa’s right flank with Arjun and Jain constantly breaking the vulnerable right area.
Down by a goal, Goa attacked using the pace and width on either flank. Latesh and Brian worked tirelessly on either flanks supplying the strikers Aaren and Liston, who were pinned by Services captain Rary S Raj and Ayush B.
However, in the 17th minute, Liston had a rare opportunity as the Salgaocar FC lad made his way past the Services defence but the rival keeper Vishnu VK easily swallowed his low shot.
The match turned end to end as Services showed their desire to increase the lead while Goa tried their best to draw level, in that bargain the hosts almost conceded the second of the evening.
In the 20th minute, Arjun once again broke the entire Goa defence with a well executed through pass to N Herojith Singh, but the onrushing keeper Bruno did well to block Singh before he could pull the trigger.
The visitors found the back of the nets at the half-hour mark when Mohd Aqib headed in a cross from the left but much to Goa’s luck linesmen accurately flagged it offside.
Goa had their chances in the first half. Brian’s free-kick missed the target by whiskers while Nicolau’s header was cleared off the line by Services Francis Zountlunga but the best chance came to young Aaren D’Silva in the 38th minute.
Goa’ Brian dribbled past couple of Services defenders before setting Aaren at goal, but the U-21 striker ran his marker down but couldn’t guide his shot at goal with only the keeper at his mercy.
Despite being a goal down, the fans had an eventful first half display at Bambolim Stadium, as they showed their support when the teams walked towards the dugout.
Changing sides, the match resumed from where it had left. Goa continued their hunt for an equaliser while Services look to inflate the lead.
The visitors Arjun broke Goa’s offside trap at the hour-mark and made the solo run in the Goa box, but Goa keeper Bruno kept Goa’s semi-final chase alive by brilliantly saving the striker’s shot.
In the 66th minute, Services were reduced to 10 men after captain Rary R Raj received his second booking for a harsh tackle on Leander D’Cunha just outside the box. The resultant free-kick taken by Liston sailed over the bar.
Down by a man, Services defence resolutely maintained their slender 1-0 lead.
However, the Athletic Stadium erupted with joy in the 83rd minute when Akeraj Martins scored the equaliser. The Sporting Clube de Goa striker was fed with a long aerial ball from the midfield and the lad brilliantly lobbed it over the onrushing keeper.
With all smiles at the stadium, Goa had more in stock for their spectators as the first goal scorer Akeraj set up Cajetan for the second goal, as the latter’s shot from close range gave no room for the rival keeper.
With this match Goa collected eight points to remain second with West Bengal topping the Group A with 10 points.
In another encounter at Tilak Maidan, Vasco, West Bengal confirmed top spot in the Group A scoring a 2-0 win over Meghalaya.
Shaikhom Singh put West 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 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 7 p.m while West Bengal would have to wait till Tuesday to find out whom they play in the first semi-final on the same day at 3 p.m. Both matches will be played at the Athletic Stadium, Bambolim.