Even as the dust settles on India's top-flight league, the U-18 I-League enters its business end with the semifinals about to take place on Friday at the Barasat stadium in Kolkata. Two teams from Goa and two from Bengal have qualified for the semifinals - United SC, Salgaocar, East Bengal and AIFF Elite Academy.
Twelve teams in three groups of four contested the final group round with United SC, East Bengal and AIFF Elite Academy winning their respective groups while Salgaocar qualified as the best second-placed team.
SF1: United SC vs AIFF Elite Academy (May 5th, 9:00 am IST)
The first semifinal on Friday will see Kolkata's United SC take on the defending champions AIFF Elite Academy. United SC have been in fantastic form in the group stages and come into this game with an all-win record. They notched up 17 goals in three games against DSK Shivajians, Royal Wahingdoh and Salgaocar, conceding just the three in the process. Youngsters Dipankar Baral and Sandip Bhattacharjee have shined for the team, which incidentally qualified to the group stage only after Mohun Bagan U18 were disqualified following allegations of age fudging.
But the Purple Brigade will not have it easy against AIFF Elite Academy who had a minor blip against Bengaluru FC in the final group game. But Floyd Pinto's team boasts some of the best talents in the country and will not relinquish their crown so easily.
One concern United SC have over this game is that it starts at 9:00 am IST and would finish at around 11:00 am IST or later if the tie goes into extra time and the temperatures would be soaring at that point.
United SC official Mr. Nabab Bhattacharya shared his concerns with Goal, "I don't know why we are being made to play at 9 AM in the morning when Barasat stadium has floodlights. The temperature would be around 41 or 42-degree celsius and it would be hard on these youngsters. They have been playing well but the heat could become a worry tomorrow. Both semifinals could have been scheduled in the evening."
SF2: East Bengal vs Salgaocar (May 5th, 3:30 pm IST)
The second semifinal will see East Bengal take on Salgaocar in the evening when the temperatures are expected to cool as the game progresses. Both teams have never managed to reach the final of the U18 I-League so far. As such, we are sure to have a new challenger in the summit clash of the tournament which was established in 2011.
East Bengal go into this game after topping a group which included the likes of FC Pune City, Tata Football Academy (TFA) and Shillong Lajong. The Red and Golds notched seven points from their three games, recording impressive wins against a strong FC Pune City side and TFA. Coach Ranjan Chowdhury will be eager to go one step closer to the title on Friday.
Salgaocar, on the other hand, qualified as the best second-placed side after being beaten 5-3 by United SC in a pulsating group game. But the Goan side will be intent on putting that loss behind them and defeat East Bengal. Coach Anthony Levinio Perreira was certainly not fazed by the stature of their opponents on Friday.
He said, "We will be going all out on Friday to reach the final for the first time. It is an extra motivation for the lads. Also the fact that we are playing a big team in East Bengal."
Young striker Liston Colaco, who was recently signed by Indian Super League franchise FC Goa, has been racking up goals for Salgaocar and he will clearly be the man to watch out for tomorrow. Perreira said of him, "He's a very reliable player for us. The team tends to perform well when he plays well."