AIFF Media team
GOA: Defending champions Minerva Punjab FC fought off the challenge of Aizawl FC by beating them 4-2 in tie-breakers to seal the final date with DSK Shivajians in the third season of Nike Premier Cup.
The tightly contested semi-final clash at the Nagoa Sports Complex in Goa ended goalless before champions Minerva gave coach Harpreet Bedi a reason to smile.
Two misses in the penalty shoot-out proved costly as the young Aizawl players were left in tears but Jahar Das’ boys had fought till the end.
Ajitkumar Meetei, Abishek Verma, Bijo Singh and Thoiba Singh scored for Minerva while Lalchhanhima Sailo missed in the penalty shootout.
As for Aizawl, only David Ramtharlawma and R Lalruatkima scored with Lal Famikima and C Laiphei missing to hit the target.
From the first minute, both sets of youngsters made an energetic start to the game.
The first piece of goalmouth action arrived early on when Aizawl’s Lal Engliana squared a pass to Ayush Chhetri who couldn’t connect with the ball as it went off target.
At the other end, Minerva Punjab kept on creating chances. A move down the right flank saw Samson dink a ball into the box.
The ball fell invitingly close to Hemam Bijo Singh who couldn’t keep his shot down as it flew well over the bar.
The defending champions had a host of goal-scoring chances but they were wasteful in front of goal.
A great opportunity fell to Samson when the Aizawl backline didn’t clear a ball out of the box. Samson stole the ball but his shot from six-yards out was blazed over the bar.
Aizawl stayed solid in defence and other than a yellow card for David Ramtharlawma, they contained the champions.
Meanwhile, Minerva Punjab also managed to keep the impressive Ayush Chhetri and Lal Famkima quiet.
At half-time, Minerva were left ruing their wastefulness in front of goal while Aizawl had the chance to regroup for the second half.
After the changeover, Aizawl’s Famkima attempted a difficult chance when he tried to turn and shoot but Minerva keeper Jaskarenvir Singh had an easy save to make.
Arjun Sharma also tried a tame shot that was easy pickings for Aizawl custodian Zodin Puia.
It was a tightly contested affair and both were locked in battle.But Aizawl had a nervy moment around the hour mark when Zodin spilt a ball right in front of Arjun Sharma who couldn’t react in time. The Aizawl defence closed him down in time but Minerva could have easily gone ahead.
Famkima tried a hand at goal when he was released with a brilliant through ball by Bijo Singh.
But the striker hit a tame shot that was too easy for Jaskarenvir Singh to hold on to.
Time ran out and penalty ensued eventually where Minerva Punjab FC went onto win by the finest of margins.
Defending Champions Minerva Punjab FC will take on DSK Shivajians in the grand finale which will be hosted at the Bambolim Ground in Goa day-after-tomorrow (February 8, 2018).