Santosh Trophy: Kerala storms into semis

Kerala came up with its most authoritative performance in the tournament to blank Mizoram 4-1 and ensured itself of a place in semifinal of the 71st Santosh Trophy National Football championship, at the Tilak Maidan here on Sunday.

Mizoram's Ramfangzauva trying to rein in Kerala's Jobby Justin in the Santosh Trophy football championship at Tilak Maidan on Sunday   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

Kerala came up with its most authoritative performance in the tournament to blank Mizoram 4-1 and ensured itself of a place in semifinal of the 71st Santosh Trophy National Football championship, at the Tilak Maidan here on Sunday.

Brace from substitute Asharudeen and goals from Jobby Justin and Seesan scripted an easy win for Kerala, which is now leading Group B with seven points from four matches. Maharashtra upset Punjab by a solitary goal at the GMC stadium, Bambolim and the result enabled Kerala to move into semifinal irrespective of the outcome of its last match against Maharashtra.

Kerala rattled Mizoram with two goals inside the first 10 minutes and the north-eastern State never really recovered from the quick strikes. Mizoram’s problems were further compounded when it was reduced to 10 men in the 26th minute. Fakuzula, who had earlier received a yellow card, received his second when he argued with referee Crystal John and was duly sent off.

Kerala coach V. P. Shaji made two changes in the squad which drew against Punjab. Shahul Abdul Samad and Muhammed Parakkottil were brought in for Usman and Asharudeen respectively. Kerala’s plan to pepper the rival half with high balls and choke the Mizoram strikers worked perfectly. Kerala found its rhythm pretty early and in the seventh minute earned a free-kick just outside Mizoram’s penalty box. Sreerag floated a high ball into the box and Jobby Justin converted it with a flying header.

Two in quick succession

Even before Mizoram could recover from the blow came the second Kerala goal. Seeesan latched on to a loose clearance by Mizoram defence and with a rasping volley from 20 yards bulged the net to increase Kerala’s lead in the ninth minute. Kerala didn’t slacken the pace and Sreerag arrowed in a precise cross to Jobby Justin but the striker botched his kick to waste the chance in the 24th minute.

Taking advantage of its numerical superiority on the field, Kerala players swarmed the rival half but failed to convert the chances.

Sahul Abdul shot straight at the goalkeeper in the 30th minute and Jobby Justin wasted another chance to increase the lead in the 35th minute after he was put in position by Muhammed Parakkottil. The striker had an open goal in front of him but his chip shot was wide off the target.

The only genuine chance for Mizoram came in the 41st minute when Apuia hooked a left footer over the Kerala goalkeeper Midhun but only for the ball to rebound off the bar.

Mizoram switched to attack mode from the start in the second half. But, Kerala did well to soak the pressure and counter attacked whenever it got the chance. The Mizo goal looked vulnerable and the third Kerala goal came off a counter-attack following a failed Mizoram attack. The ball was quickly relayed to Usman who squared it to Asharudeen who beat goalkeeper with a low shot in the 65th minute.

Kerala had another chance to increase the lead when Jishnu Balakrishnan’s left footer in the 75th minute narrowly missed the target. But Asharudeen with a beautifully taken left footer made it 4-0 for Kerala in the 84th minute. Kerala defence lowered its guard allowing Lal Rammawia to sneak in the consolation goal in the 86th minute.

In the Maharashtra-Punjab match, Vijit Shetty scored the match-winner for Maharashtra in the 67th minute. The result made the chase for the second semifinal spot in the group interesting with last set of group matches involving Mizoram and Maharashtra becoming crucial. Punjab ended its engagements with five points from four matches.

On Monday, West Bengal takes on Meghalaya while Services plays Goa.

The result:

Kerala 4 (Jobby Justin 7, Seesan 9, Asharudeen 65, 84) bt Mizoram 1 (Lal Rammawia 86)

Maharashtra 1 (Vijit Shetty 67) bt Punjab 0.