February 08, 2017 09:30 PM
Mumbai (Sports Bureau)
Defending Champions Minerva Punjab FC defeated high flying southern counterparts Bengaluru FC colts in an intense semi-finals of the AIFF Youth League/ Nike Premier Cup 2017 at the Cooperage Football Stadium here today.The warriors from Chandigarh didn’t leave any stone unturned as they went roaring from the word go as striker Luntingmang Haokip had a great chance to break the deadlock in the very 2nd minute into the game but missed the final touch. The next couple of minutes saw the warriors launching some aggressive attacks into the Bengaluru FC’s half and making some dreaded moves but Luntingmang Haokip seemed to have a bad day on the field, the gaffer soon replaced him with Manipuri goalmachine Nongdamba Noarem whose addition added more force to the warriors attack but didn’t manage to score as both teams went for a lime break with the score boared remaining unchanged. Spaniard coach Jose Carlos Havia played his cards smart as he made some quick changes in the Second Half bringing in Jackson Singh and rock-solid defender Jagjeet Singh as he changed his tactics to overcome the blues challenge, his efforts payed off well soon in the 53rd Minute when Jackson launched an counter-attack but was intercepted by alert defending by Bengaluru FC who kicked it off for a corner, former India International Mohammed Sahajahan stepped up to take the kick and curled it accurately to Nongdamba Noarem in the box who did’nt make any mistake in breaking the deadlock infavour of the warriors.The warriors then held up the charging Bengaluru FC quite well who speared the Minervans with counter attacks in search of an equiliser but fierce defending by Minervans Jagjeet and Co. in the backline kept the blues at the bay. 
The final whistle blew as Minervans emerged victorious after a hard fought match and marched into the finals.  Minervas   will play Bengaluru based Ozone FC in the finals on February  10 at 7 pm in The Cooperage Football Stadium Mumbai. 
Ozone FC qualified for the final round after dominating their group in the qualifying round. In the final round they were clubbed with Pride Sports of Delhi, Mohan Bagan Sail Academy and IYSA in Group A. Ozone FC qualified for the semi finals despite complaints from fellow teams that they were fielding overage players. A source close to the development alleged that AIFF had enough proof to disqualify Ozone FC before the semi final held today for fielding some players whose true age was around 22 to 23 years, but Ozone FC were able to produce a "Stay" order from the court, instructing AIFF to hold off their decision regarding the case until after the final of the Nike Premier Cup 2017 to be held  tomorrow.  "With 2017 World Cup coming up and the Prime Ministers initiative to develop football, even small clubs like ours are trying hard to avoid overage and ineligible players at every cost and even AIFF is doing their bit by random testing and heavy penalties like ban for 2 years for clubs found to be doing age fraud; so its disheartening to see court orders being used to field questionable players and avoid penalties. The ultimate loser in the scenario is Indian football as we can never progress if our system is rotted by age fraud which is the biggest enemy of Indian football." said Ranjit Bajaj, CEO, Minerva Punjab FC.
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