Santosh Trophy: Kerala tops group with draw against Tamil Nadu

Kerala played out a goalless draw against Tamil Nadu but the solitary point was enough as it topped Group B of the Santosh Trophy.

Action from the Santosh Trophy tie between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on Monday.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Kerala booked its spot in the final round of the Santosh Trophy with a goalless draw against Tamil Nadu at the Football Stadium here on Monday. Kerala needed only a point from the final South Zone qualifier to finish on top of Group B (on goal difference) and it accomplished the task, even if a little unconvincingly. With the clock ticking down, Tamil Nadu -- needing a win to advance -- looked increasingly bold, but there was no breakthrough.

"I'm not happy; I'm not disappointed either," said the Kerala coach, Satheevan Balan, afterwards. "Our line-up was not defensive. We created chances but we missed them. Definitely there was some tension towards the end. Except our defenders all our players looked shaky today. Our wingers failed; our strikers and central midfielders were not up to the mark either."

READ: Karnataka qualifies for final with 4-1 rout of Services

Kerala's failure to score was due in no small part to the efforts of the rival goalkeeper. M. Manikandan pulled off a number of fine saves, palming Vibin Thomas's powerful free-kick over the bar, and blocking close-range shots from strikers Sajith Poulose and V.K. Afdal.

Tamil Nadu had a couple of fine chances of its own, but K. Manimaran missed from point-blank range on the stroke of half-time. There were few other clear-cut chances, although the side grew in confidence as the game wore on. Kerala came through unscathed despite its wastefulness in front of goal.

The Karnataka State Football Association has expressed its desire to host the final round of the Santosh Trophy. Speaking after the conclusion of the South Zone qualifiers at the Football Stadium here on Monday, KSFA president N.A. Haris stated that he had requested the AIFF to allot the event (schedule yet to be announced) to the city. "We are confident," he added.

Not all teams, though, are likely to be enthused by the decision. Kerala coach Satheevan Balan admitted he was not a fan of playing on artificial pitches. "The bounce here was inconsistent and hard to judge. The quality of the pitch should be better," he said.

Balan was also concerned about the lack of suitable training grounds. "We were initially offered a small mud ground. Thankfully, the match commissioner allowed us to train here (Football Stadium) in the mornings after we requested him. We need good training grounds nearby," he added.

There were no complaints, though, about the KSFA's hospitality.

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