Blame Bengal for prematurely bumping into defending champions Goa but coach Shabbir Ali is not assuming anything. “We didn't play consistently, so we have to face them. Bengal have to play like Bengal to get out of this,” said the former Santosh Trophy winner.
Winning Wednesday's match despite trailing 0-1 meant Tamil Nadu got away with what looks like an easier match, against Punjab in the second of Friday's semi-final double-header. Punjab, notwithstanding the 0-3 trouncing from Goa in their quarter-final league match, are in flowing form and would fancy their chances against the previous edition semi-finalists.
“Barring the loss against Goa, our boys have gradually improved and performed and delivered under pressure, so that's not a worry,” said Punjab coach Jagir Singh, under whom they had won the title twice, in 2006 and 2008.
With strikers Balwant Singh and ex-Chirag player Parveen Kumar hitting the right notes, Tamil Nadu's defence will be tested. Tamil Nadu, however, will be relying heavily on impressive striker P. Riju.
Mariano Gomes' Goa have been in ruthless form here. On a high after packing off Services 4-0 in their last quarter-final league match, the defending champions have hardly put a foot wrong. But what's troubling Gomes most is the experience in the Bengal midfield.
“Jayanta Sen and Snehasish Chakraborty are the players to watch out for,” Gomes said. While Sen and Denson Devdas have been key to Bengal's midfield dominance, the skipper has had a good tournament, firing well-directed crosses from the left-flank.
Gomes' taking note of that means Bengal would surely want a back up in case Chakraborty is negated. Goa will, however, miss left-back Fulganco Cardozo, who received a second booking against Services. “We have enough options on the reserve bench,” Gomes said.
Ali, on the other hand, is facing a crisis upfront after Shankar Oraon was stretchered out of Wednesday's match. Scans have revealed a muscle injury and hence Ali will have to fall back on the first-match pair of Tarif Ahmed and TFA recruit Robin Singh. Nilendra Dewan hasn't played enough to merit a start but considering the lack of chemistry between Ahmed and Singh against Delhi, Ali may have second thoughts.
The coach would also hope right-side midfielder Gouranga Dutta will keep going for 90 minutes as Subhas Chakraborty too is out with an injured finger. The defence though will return to its original strength after Sheikh Azeem and Arnab Mondal return from injury and suspension respectively.
Watching Snehasish and Co. take turns at goalies Abhra Mondal and Sandip Nandy from the penalty spot showed that last year's runners-up are at least trying not to repeat their mistakes.