Bhubaneswar: Meghalaya beat former champions West Bengal 2-1 to finish second in their group and qualify for the semifinals of the Santosh Trophy National Football Championships for the first time here Monday.
Meghalaya became the fourth and the last team to reach the semifinals which will be played in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, along with the final from March 1 to 4.
Meghalaya finished second in Group B with 10 points from five matches behind Services (13 points), who also booked a semifinal berth and ticket to Saudi Arabia.
Punjab and Karnataka have already qualified for the semifinals from Group A as winners and runners-up.
In the semifinals at the at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Punjab will face Meghalaya while Services will take on Karnataka.
Bengal took the lead through Sougata Hansda in the 36th minute.
But Meghalaya did not let their heads drop, though, and found their reward at the fag end of the first half, with Allen Lyngdoh (44th) and Nikelson Bina (45+3) scoring in quick succession.
The second half was played at a slower pace. Meghalaya were keen to see the game out without any drama. An injury to Bengal goalkeeper Shubham Roy meant that there would be a lot of added time, and despite repeated Bengal attempts, an equaliser never arrived.
“There is a good mix of boys who have experience playing not just Santosh Trophy but also for clubs outside the state,” Meghalaya head coach Khlain Syiemlieh said after the match.
“They have a lot of hunger and desire and I’m very happy for them. They deserve it.”
Despite boasting of some big clubs that have been part of the I-League (Shillong Lajong, Royal Wahingdoh and Rangdajied United), and India internationals of the calibre of Eugenson Lyngdoh and Aiborlang Khongjee, Meghalaya have never truly been regarded as a powerhouse of northeast football, let alone that of India.
A solitary bronze, won in the National Games in 2007, has been their best achievement in the game.
Khongjee, in fact, was a part of that bronze winning side and is now the assistant coach of the Meghalaya Santosh Trophy team.
In other matches, Services thrashed Railways 4-0 while Delhi defeated Manipur 2- 0.