Punjab will take on Goa, while Services will lock horns with Karnataka in the two semifinals of the Hero Santosh Trophy in Ludhiana on Friday. After the 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.
From Group A, Services and Goa finished with 10 points apiece, four ahead of their nearest opponents Delhi. In Group B, Punjab, with the support of the home crowd, 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.
Eight-time champions Punjab will take on five-time champions Goa in the first semifinal of the 78-year-old national championship’s business end. 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 scoresheet.
Their top-scorer in the tournament has been 19-year-old Pune FC academy prodigy Lalawmpuia, who currently plies his trade at FC Goa Reserves in the Hero 2nd Division. The Mizoram-born striker has already 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. In the second semifinal, Services, the Group A toppers have exhibited a sturdy back-line, letting in only two goals in their four matches so far, keeping two clean sheets in the process.
Their attack, ably led by Lallawmkima and Bikash Thapa, has fired on all cylinders. Their best moment came in their last Group B game against Meghalaya, which they won by a whopping 5-0 margin. Karnataka, on the other hand, will be banking on their strong attack-line, that has so far scored the highest number of goals in the 2018-19 Santosh Trophy Finals, so far 12.
Defence has been a bit of an issue for this side though, as they have let in seven goals in their four matches. They were, in fact, leading Group B for most of the part, but finished second after losing 3-4 to Punjab in the last game.