Cuttack, May 26 (IANS) Tamil Nadu held onto a first-half lead to pip Manipur 2-0 in the semi-finals here Saturday and book a summit clash with Services in the final of the 66th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy.
Striker A .Eagan scored the first goal in the 35th minute and substitute M. David sealed Manipur's fate in the 85th minute.
Tamil Nadu started on a cautious note and stayed willing to play the waiting game. They allowed their opponents to come to them but never opened their goalmouth. Their penchant for counters also worked wonders for them.
After a series of attacks on the rival citadel, Tamil Nadu eventually gained the lead in the 35th minute.
Jayakumara's defence-splitting pass opened up the Manipur defence and striker Reagan beat rival stopper James Singh for speed and tapped it past an onrushing rival goalkeeper Basant Singh.
Tamil Nadu who looked more purposeful in the first half, should have gained the lead much earlier.
In the 20th minute, Nirmal Kumar broke free as James chased but his tap from the top of the box went wide. Nirmal had all the time to go past goalkeeper Basant Singh but he wasna't willing to.
And then, four minutes later, Jayakumar after being set in the clear by John Paul, shot straight to Basant from a hand-shaking distance.
Manipur fizzled out a bit as the game progressed in the first half. But a Govin Singh header off a corner and Boy Singh free-kick from just outside the box deserve mention.
Enjoying a one-goal cushion at the interval, Tamil Nadu went into a defensive shell in the second half. The strategy allowed the Manipuris that extra bit of space in the midfield.
Manipur's best chance went abegging in the 61st minute as Boy Singh failed to trap a centre from the left and Tamil Nadu goalkeeper Akhil Soman thwarted the danger.
That apart, there were quite a few anxious moments in the Tamil Nadu box and Manipuri striker Thoi Singh's diving header even entered the net only to be disallowed for off-side.
Tamil Nadu sealed the fate in the 85th minute, a counter-attack doing the trick for them. David finished it off as he slotted past Basant.