| A tense scramble for possession in the Sikkim versus Services Santosh Trophy clash in Imphal Wednesday. Services won 1-0 to enter the last eight. Picture by Eastern Projections
Imphal: Assam, Karnataka, Services, Punjab and Orissa stormed into the quarter finals of the LG Santosh Trophy on Wednesday, the last day of the league round, topping their respective clusters. However, Haryana, Tripura, Gujarat, Nagaland, Bihar, Sikkim and Mizoram crashed out.
The teams which have already made it to the quarter final stage are Bengal, Manipur and Maharastra. They will be joined by defending champions Kerala, runners-up Goa, and the two losing semi-finalists from the last edition, Railways and Tamil Nadu.
The quarter final stage will get underway on Friday with Assam playing Bengal and Services meeting Maharashtra.
Incidentally, the next stage matches will be played at the main stadium of the Khuman Lampak sports complex.
In Wednesday’s matches, Assam, Orissa and Services demolished Bihar, Nagaland and Sikkim, respectively, with identical 3-0 margins. Punjab beat Mizoram by a solitary goal, Tripura beat Haryana 2-1 and Karnataka blanked Gujarat 6-0.
Tripura’s victory over Haryana was of no avail as they are already out of the tournament, Karnataka having topped their cluster, securing nine points.
For Assam, the scorers were striker Utpal Basumatary, forward Saran Sonar and Sanjiba Rongpi. Assam went into the lead early when Basumatary’s shot hit home off Sanjiba in the 6th minute itself.
At the breather, Assam were leading by a goal consolidated in the 58th and 79th minutes to sail into the quarters.
Elsewhere, already smarting under the blow dealt by skipper Bhaichung Bhutia’s injury and subsequent non-availability for the rest of the meet, Sikkim ended their campaign when they went down tamely to Services.
The India captain was supposed to have joined the Sikkim team after doing duty for Mohun Bagan in the club’s AFC Champions League match against Valencia in the Maldives on Tuesday. However, a calf muscle injury sustained in the match put paid to Sikkim’s hopes of having the star striker on their ranks.
Though Services dominated play for most part of the 90 minutes, giving Sikkim little chance to score, their first goal came only in 39th minute through Jhoney P. Gangmei. His beautiful header found the net off a long clearance from Bikash Gurung.
After the interval, Sikkim made desperate efforts to penetrate the Services defence, but lack of force, decisiveness and co-ordination ensured that the attempts drew a blank.
Two goals within two minutes of each other sealed Sikkim’s fate. Star striker Preetam Bahadur struck in the 56th minute and the Services skipper Raghu Kumar folowed it up a couple of minutes later.
The margin of victory would have been bigger had Services not muffed several easy chances.
Incidentally, a healthy goal average meant a draw would have been enough for Services to make the quarter final stage. There will be no play on Thursday.