Santosh Trophy: Kerala faces a tough Goan test in semis

Kerala qualified for the semifinal as winner of Group B but will face a rejuvenated Goan side which displayed its quality in a fine comeback against defending champion Services to qualify as runner-up in Group A.

V. P. Shaji (left) says Goa will be under pressure to perform in front of its home crowd.   -  Stan Rayan

Kerala faces a test of its character when it takes on host Goa in the semifinals of the 71st Santosh Trophy National Football championship at GMC stadium, Bambolim here on Wednesday. Kerala qualified for the semifinal as winner of Group B but will face a rejuvenated Goan side which despite scraping through to the semifinals will be a formidable opponent on its home turf.

Goa staged a fine comeback against defending champion Services to qualify as runner-up in Group A. Goa hasn’t been dominant in the tournament despite possessing players with experience but the team showed traces of its ability in the fightback against Services when it came back from a goal down to beat a tough opponent. If the outcome of the last match is the yardstick, then the momentum is with Goa.

Kerala rested several first choice players and tested its bench strength against Maharashtra. The second string Kerala struggled and was badly exposed by the rampaging Maharashtra side.

Kerala coach Shaji was wary of Goan resurgence but was not ready to dwell much on the defeat Kerala suffered in the last league match. Despite admitting Goa would be a tough opponent, Shaji expected the Goans to crack under pressure. “They will be under pressure to perform well in front of their home crowd. Goa is a good side but not an unbeatable side. We have issues in the defence but I expect the boys to play sensibly,” he said.

Among the four teams, Kerala scored the maximum number of goals and also conceded the most. Striker Jobby Justin has been the lynchpin of Kerala attack. Youngsters Asharudeen and Muhammed Parakkottil have also pulled their weight in the attack. However, the leaky defence has been a worry and Kerala will have to shore up its defences if it is to advance further in the tournament.

Goan coach Mateus Costa was in the stands to witness the second-string Kerala lose to Maharashtra at Tilak Maidan. Costa will be hoping his boys will take advantage of Kerala’s inherent weakness in defence when the two sides meet. However, the Goan coach shrugged off all the talk of pressure and said his team was capable of playing under pressure and ending the State title’s drought in Santosh Trophy.

Efficient West Bengal takes on Mizoram

The 31-time champion West Bengal has quietly been efficient in this tournament. The team progressed to the semifinals as winner of Group A. The trio of Manavir Singh, Moirangthem Basanta Singh and Shikhom Ronald Singh have made their presence felt in the tournament. Bengal created lot of chances but the prodigality of the strikers - especially Manavir Singh - is a worry. Coach Mridual Kanti Banerjee said Mizoram will be tough opponent and his boys will have to play at their best to beat the north-eastern Side.

Mizoram crushed Railways 5-1 in its last match, making its 1-4 loss to Kerala look like an aberration. The nimble footed and sharp Mizoram strikers will be more than a handful for the Bengal defence. Lalsangbera, Lalpurnia, Lalchhuanawma have been among goals. But the Mizoram defence has struggled against the high ball and this weakness was exposed by Kerala in the league match. The taller Bengal players will try to exploit this frailty of Mizoram on Thursday.

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