Santosh Trophy: Kerala pips Mizoram, faces Bengal in final

A 54th minute strike from V. K. Afdal guided Kerala to the Santosh Trophy final, where it will face Bengal.

Kerala's V. K. Afdal (9) celebrates after scoring in the Santosh Trophy semifinal against Mizoram.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

V. K. Afdal's 54th-minute strike fetched Kerala a hard-earned 1-0 win over Mizoram and a spot in the Santosh Trophy final on Friday. In the semifinal contest held at the Mohun Bagan ground here, Kerala withstood constant pressure from an attacking Mizoram side to set up a title clash with host Bengal on Sunday.

Bengal defeated Karnataka 2-0 in the other semifinal at the Sailen Manna Stadium, Howrah, to keep alive its hopes of retaining the title.

READ: Murmu, Sarakar's second-half goals send Bengal to fina

Knowing Mizoram’s systematic game – featuring short-passing and ball possession – would pose problems, Kerala played a more defensive game. The defenders, led by captain Rahul V. Raj, who made light of an injury, Vibin Thomas and Lijo S., toiled hard to keep the post safe.

Mizoram created several moves on both flanks but failed to score, owing to its poor finishing. Its 32nd minute attempt, a combined attack orchestrated by F. Lalrinpuia and Malsawmdawng Liana, was its best chance of the first half.

Mizoram players showed good understanding to maintain the tempo in the second period as well. However, Kerala’s counter-attacks helped the side score the all-important goal.

M. S. Jithin dashed forward on the right after receiving a long aerial ball and sent a cross inside the box. Two shots on goal were blocked by the Mizoram players before Afdal, who came on the field in the 45th minute, breached the defence with a right-footer in the 54th minute.

Mizoram stepped up the attack in search of the equaliser, but the goal eluded the Hming Thanasanga-coached side. A couple of shots from a goal-mouth melee were miraculously saved by goalkeeper Midhun V. on the goal line in the 81st minute.

Tempers frayed and players of both sides were engaged in an ensuing scuffle before match officials controlled the situation.

“This was the final for us. I had told my boys not concede any goal in the first half. When sides changed, the breeze helped us in counter-attacks,” said Balan.

Asked about forward Anurag P. C.’s chest injury because of which he was taken to hospital, Balan alleged that it got aggravated after being kicked by Mizoram goalkeeper Laltanpuia Ralte. “The match officials should have looked into this,” he said.