Santosh Trophy: Kerala tops group after win over Bengal

Kerala topped Group A with 12 points, courtesy of its 1-0 win over Bengal in the Santosh Trophy on Tuesday.

Kerala players celebrate after Rahul's late goal against Bengal on Tuesday.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

Rahul K. P. found the net in last minute to help Kerala down host and defending champion Bengal by a solitary goal in the concluding round of the Group-A league in the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy, on Tuesday at the Mohun Bagan ground.

The win helped five-time champion Kerala to top the group, as it won all of its matches and picked up 12 points. Bengal took the second spot with nine points, from three wins and a loss, to fill up the other semifinal spot allotted to the group.

Kerala will face the runner-up of Group-B, while Bengal will meet the winner of the group in the semifinal to be played on Friday.

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In the other match of the same group, Maharashtra drubbed Manipur 7-2, but the result did not influence any change in the semifinal qualification as both Bengal and Kerala had previously secured the berths.

Both Bengal and Kerala opted for preservation and rested a number of players ahead of their relatively tough semifinal assignments. With Kerala preferring to play defensive, Bengal enjoyed greater ball possession in the initial quarter.

Bengal earned a chance in the sixth minute when attacking-midfielder Sandip Bhattacharjee fired a volley that sailed just over the crosspiece. Kerala had it first look at the goal in the 13th minute off a free-kick, after its prolific winger Jithin M. S. was brought down outside the Bengal box. However, S. Lijo failed to avail the chance, sending his attempt over.

The two sides had some more sporadic chances but none of them looked sharp enough to threaten the goalkeepers of either ends. Appearing to be content with a point, Kerala coach Satheevan Balan replaced forward Anurag P.C. with under-21 midfielder Sreekuttan V.S. to further bolster his defence.

As the match wore on towards a barren draw, the Bengal camp suddenly started pushing for attacks in the final quarter of action. Bengal striker Bidyashagar Singh came very close to scoring in the 81st minute as he made a fine solo effort and got past the Kerala’s defensive array. But, the Kerala goal remained safe as its goalkeeper S. Hajmal charged out in time to maintain his clean sheet.

Kerala snatched a late win as midfielder Rahul K. P. found the net in the 90th minute. Jithin did all the hard work, as he ran up the right flank and set up Rahul with a nice low cross.

The results:

Group A (final round): Kerala 1 (Rahul K.P. 90) bt Bengal 0; Maharashtra 7 (Sahil Bhokare 28, Ranjeet Singh 59, 77, 90,  Nikhil Prabhu 75, Kiran Pandhare 86, Naqiur Ansari 90+3) bt Manipur 2 (Chanso Horam 17, Dhananjoy Singh 40).

 

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