ANI Photo | Manipur end Tamil Nadu’s title defence at Sr Women’s NFC for Rajmata Jijabai Trophy

Record 21-time champions Manipur defeated defending champions Tamil Nadu 2-0 in the first semi-final of the 28th Senior Women’s National Football Championship for the Rajmata Jijabai Trophy at the AIFF National Centre of Excellence in Kolkata on Monday.
In a battle of titans between two of the favourites to lift the trophy, Manipur came out all guns blazing following their shock 0-1 loss to Haryana two days ago which denied them top spot in Group B. And while Tamil Nadu didn’t have to break much sweat to top Group A, the semi-final was a different story as they failed to find the pace to match Manipur’s dominance in the first half, and didn’t have much left in the tank to force a comeback in the second.
Head coach Nongmeikapam Itocha Singh’s Manipur did all the damage in the first half. Their two goalscorers Sibani Devi and Bala Devi were born 17 years apart, which signifies the good blend of youth and experience in their star-studded squad.
The first goal was an amazing team effort. It all started with a long clearance from right-back Kritina Devi, which was seized upon by a pacy Dangmei Grace, who skipped past Kowsalya and swung in a high cross from the right. Sibani, left unmarked by the Tamil Nadu defence, arrived at great speed at the far post and thumped a solid header past goalkeeper Sowmiya Narayanasamy.
Manipur’s second goal arrived 14 minutes later, moments before the half-time whistle. It followed a similar pattern to the first one, and Tamil Nadu made the same mistake twice, with nobody catching Grace’s run down the right. This time, Kritina picked out the winger with a great through ball. Grace rallied forward, looked for her options and cut it low for Bala Devi in the middle, who remained composed and had enough time to take a touch and slot it into the bottom corner with Narayanasamy rooted to her spot.
The contest was perhaps finished in the first half itself. Manipur remained on top for most of the second period and continued to pump bodies forward in search of more goals. Tamil Nadu may have kept them at bay after the break, but that was far from enough to retake the trophy they lifted in Amritsar last year.
In Wednesday’s final, Manipur will face the winners of the second semi-final between Bengal and Haryana, which will take place later on Monday at 15:00 at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan. The match will be streamed live on the Indian Football YouTube Channel.

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