Santosh Trophy qualifiers: Captains shine for Kerala and Andhra

Kerala skipper P. Usman and Andhra’s T. Chandrasekhar stole the show as their respective team's defeated Puducherry and Karnataka in the South Zone qualifiers for the Santosh Trophy.

Skipper P. Usman scores the opener for Kerala.   -  S. RAMESHKURUP

On a hot Thursday afternoon, not many would have expected more than a hundred spectators at the Corporation Stadium, especially for a South Zone qualifying match for the Santosh Trophy. But, the football fans came out in fairly large numbers.

They were not disappointed. Not only did they see the home team, Kerala, score a handsome 3-0 victory over Puducherry, but they also got to watch a much more evenly contested encounter between Karnataka and Andhra, the opening fixture of the tournament.

Andhra won that game 2-1, riding on goals scored from the penalty spot.

Of the four teams from Group-A that were on display, Kerala looked the best, though it has to be said at the outset that the host had a weak rival and a much better time to play than Andhra and Karnataka. Yet, the Kerala men played a fast, attacking game and always looked keen to score.

And score they did quite early on, in the third minute, to be precise. A superb cross from the right by Jishnu Balakrishnan was met by an even more superb header from Jobby Justin.

Kerala, despite getting quite a few chances, had to wait till the 12th minute of the second half to increase its lead. Skipper P. Usman scored that goal, back-heeling a header from Jobby past the row of Puducherry defenders.

The captain struck again, some nine minutes later. He darted into the box from the right, outran the defenders and drove the ball into the far post.

He wasn’t the first captain to score two goals on this day, though. That honour went to Andhra’s T. Chandrasekhar, who made excellent use of the two penalty kicks his team received.

In a lively match, Karnataka had taken the lead in the 25th minute, through a long-ranger from skipper G. Vignesh. It indeed was a day for the captains.

Karnataka would be feeling crushed after the match, in which it wasted more opportunities than its opponent.

In Friday’s matches, Services, the Santosh Trophy winner in the last two editions, takes on Telangana and Tamil Nadu meets Lakshadweep.

The results: Kerala 3 (Jobby Justin 3, P. Usman 57 & 66) bt Puducherry 0.

Andhra 2 (T. Chandrasekhar 45+1-pen & 72-pen) bt Karnataka 1 (G. Vignesh 25).