Santosh Trophy: Kerala qualifies for final phase

Kerala played out a goalless draw with Karnataka to qualify for the final phase of Santosh Trophy.

Kerala's Jobby Justin (9) heads the ball against Karnataka in the Santhosh Trophy south zone qualifier at Corporation stadium in Kozhikode.   -  S. Ramesh Kurup

For the first four days, it was raining goals at the Corporation Stadium. But, on day five of the Santosh Trophy south zone qualifying tournament, not a single goal came even after more than three hours of football.

Kerala would not complain though. For the host, the goalless draw with Karnataka was enough to advance to the final phase, after missing out last year. It topped Group A with seven points (only the top team from each pool qualifies). 

For Karnataka, it was a must-win situation. But, it received a big setback not long after the game started. Its defender Arun Pondey was sent off after fouling Jobby Justin in the 27th minute.

Karnataka thus may have been reduced to 10 men for the better part of the match, but it showed a lot of resilience to thwart the host’s usually sharp forward line consisting of P. Usman, Jobby and Sahal Samad.

Kerala may not have organised its attacks with as much speed or precision as it did in the previous games, but credit should also go to the Karnataka defence, which was well manned by the likes of Srikanth Ramu, John Peter and Vivekananda Sagayaraj. It was Karnataka's surprising defeat in the opening match to Andhra that proved costly for the team in the end.

Andhra was in for a surprise itself, as it was held by Puducherry to a draw. It was a vastly improved performance from Puducherry, which could thus at least take one point from this tournament. Karnataka and Andhra finished with four points each. On Tuesday, the final day of the tournament, Services meets Tamil Nadu and Telengana takes on Lakshadweep. Services, the winner of the Santosh Trophy in the last two years, and Tamil Nadu have six points each. The winner of the match will join Kerala from this leg of qualifiers for the final phase.

Services, however, could also settle for a draw, as it enjoys a much superior goal difference. For Tamil Nadu, nothing less than a win would do.

The results: Group A: Kerala 0 drew with Karnataka 0; Andhra 0 drew with Puducherry 0.

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