GUWAHATI, May 30 – Displaying better team work and tactical moves, defending champions Bengal clinched the 31st title in the Senior National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy.
In the keenly contested summit clash at the Nehru Stadium here this evening, Bengal edged out spirited Manipur 2-1.
Branco Vincent took his team ahead in the 19th minute with an eye-catching volley. Midfielder Francis Xavier lobbed the ball to Vincent inside the box from the right flank who volleyed home without any delay (1-0). Manipur defenders K Regan Singh and Y Hemanta Singh could be blamed for the goal as they left Branco unmarked.
Manipur frontliners, I Nilakumar Singh and L Tikan Singh, were heavily guarded by the Bengal defenders and they were never allowed to cruise into the striking zone in the first session. Bengal defenders, Gurpreet Singh, Safar Sardar, Anupam Sarkar and Suman Dey stood like a rock and foiled all the Manipur moves with timely tackles. The first session was distinctly dominated by Bengal with better cohesion. Attackers Branco and Budiram Tudu combined well with midfielders Xavier, Goutam Kujur and Santosh Oraon to force the Manipuri defenders fight with backs against the wall. All the Bengal players made good use of their pace which was enough to dominate proceedings.
Bengal got off to a flyer after changing over the sides. In the 47th minute, Branco set the ball for Tudu who gently pushed the ball into the net from a crowded defence (2-0).
Bengal midfielder Snehasish Dutta toiled hard in the second session and using the left flank he set the ball for Vincent on several occasions. In the 65th minute, Vincent even failed to beat Manipur custodian L Prem Kumar Singh in a point blank situation getting a pass from Snehasish.
But the Manipuri players were in a never-say-die mood and reduced the margin in the 75th minute through L Naba Ch Singh (2-1). Substitute S Herojit Singh initiated the move down the right flank and when the Bengal defenders failed to clear the ball, Naba diverted it to a goal. In the 83rd minute, Manipur came close to scoring when S Thomas Singh unleashed a powerful drive. But Bengal custodian Naseem Akhtar made a brilliant save. Earlier, Ministers Gautam Roy, Ajit Singh, Prithivi Majhi and APCC chief Bhubaneswar Kalita were introduced to the players before the match. In the closing ceremony, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi gave away the prizes.