Kerala took a firm step forward towards qualifying for the final phase of the Santosh Trophy football championship on Saturday. The host did that in entertaining fashion too, with a 3-0 win over Andhra in the south zone qualifiers, much to the delight of a good weekend crowd at the Corporation Stadium.

Earlier, Karnataka posted its first victory of the tournament. It truly impressed in its 3-0 win over Puducherry.

But it will have a tough task in its last match against Kerala, which is atop group A with six points. Karnataka and Andhra have three points apiece.

It was a long, hard struggle for Andhra against a confident Kerala, which went ahead very early. In the third minute, P. Usman did well to slam the ball in from just inside the box following a throw-in by S. Lijo not far from the left corner flag.

In the 24th minute, Sahal Samad showed, inside the box, his nerve and nice dribbling skills while he increased the host's lead. Seven minutes later, Lijo's splendid header off V. V. Sreerag's free-kick made it 3-0.

The host could not add to that tally in the second half, though. It should have in the 74th minute, but Jobby Justin, who was fouled inside the box, put a penalty kick wide.

Earlier, in a match it needed to win to stay alive in the competition, Karnataka came up with a much improved performance to outplay the hapless Puducherry. It could have won by a much bigger margin if it didn't squander numerous chances, especially in the second half.

It opened the scoring in the 23rd minute through Amoes, who put the ball smartly past an advancing goalkeeper J. Kanish to finish off a swift move down the centre. Then, Anto Xavier's twin strike, in the 35th and 50th minutes, sealed the match for Karnataka, while Puducherry became the first team to bow out of the race from this leg of the Santosh Trophy qualifiers.

In Sunday's matches, Tamil Nadu takes on Telangana and Services meets Lakshadweep.

The results: Kerala (P. Usman 3, Sahal Samad 24, S. Lijo 30) beat Andhra 0; Karnataka 3 (Amoes 23, Anto Xavier 35 & 50) beat Puducherry 0.