SHILLONG: SAI Kolkata and Kerala Blasters will contest in the first semifinal of the ongoing 2017/18 U-18 Youth League at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong on Thursday (May 24, 2018) in what promises to be a high-octane thriller.
The two sides took distinctly different routes to the final four in a keenly contested tournament. SAI Kolkata would consider themselves extremely lucky to be in the semifinals as they were awarded 3 goals and 3 points against Sudeva FC despite the game ended in a goalless draw as the later team fielded an ineligible player which saw SAI Kolkata go through on goal difference ahead of TFA from Group A, while Kerala finished on top of its group despite rocky performances and having to sweat it out until the end of its third match.
SAI Kolkata have underwhelmed so far, scoring just twice during the group stage. Rohit Tigga has failed to continue his stunning form which he showcased in the zonal round and scored only once in three matches. Their defensive pairing of skipper Kiranmay Mandi and no-nonsense centre-back Madan Mandi have been key to their progress.
While there might have been some criticism of SAI Kolkata’s pragmatic play in the group stage but their suitability for tournament football is beyond question.
On the other hand, Kerala’s run to the semifinals has looked a lot like SAI Kolkata’s, rarely pretty, occasionally frustrating, but eventually effective.
A below par performance against DSK Shivajians in their final Group C game was enough for Kerala to book their place in the semifinals, but they acknowledged that things have to improve in order to reach the final.
Admitting that his team has not played to its full potential so far in the tournament, Kerala coach Renjith Thittayil Ajithkumar was secure in saying that everyone will see a more organized Kerala Blasters in the knockout round.
Kerala have had problems defensively in this tournament and against SAI Kolkata they are likely to be tested at the back.
Coming into the competition Kerala set a goal of reaching the semifinals but Ajithkumar knows his team should not be content with just being there.
The clash might depend on individual mistakes rather than a beautiful build-up attack. Both teams find it hard in front of goal, scoring relatively few between them during the group stage. Although SAI Kolkata has the plaudit of the best defence in the tournament along with East Bengal, not conceding a single goal throughout the group stage.
The game has no clear favourites and will only be determined on the pitch either within the 90 minutes or during the penalty shootout session. Either way, we hope to see an entertaining game which will kick-off at 3 pm.