The return of Kerala on the football map

The glamour of Indian Super League and the heroics of the Santosh Trophy team is likely to attract more youngsters to the beautiful game.

All this offers hope for Kerala, which has come a long way from the time when half the Indian side spoke Malayalam.   -  AIFF

As S. Seesan's scorching kick from the penalty spot went like a bullet to the back of Bengal's net at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, V. Midhun sank to the ground, unable to control his emotions. Those weren't the only tears of joy shed by a Keralite on Sunday evening.

Hundreds of thousands of Malayalam-speaking football fans could empathise with Midhun, who was one of the heroes for Kerala in the Santosh Trophy final. They know what winning the national championship means to a state that is mad about football and that which has produced some of the greatest ever players for India.

READ: Kerala secures Santosh Trophy with penalty-shootout victory

Mithun had brought off two successive saves at the start of the penalty shootout which had almost ensured Kerala would win the Santosh Trophy after a gap of 14 years; this is its sixth title.

But, not many would have betted on this young team to triumph in Kolkata. Even to make it to the semifinals from a group that inlcuded Bengal, the defending champion and host, was considered a challenge.

Kerala, however, went on to top the group, beating Bengal. Then it overcame another tough hurdle in the form of Mizoram in the semifinal.

Much of the credit for this remarkable success should go to coach Satheevan Balan. It was his maiden assignment with the senior Kerala team. Shortly before he left for Kolkata, the Thiruvananthapuram-based coach had told this publication that the job was nothing less than a dream-come-true.

Satheevan and his boys could not have timed their fairytale better. Football is on a comeback trail in the state, thanks largely to the popularity of Kerala Blasters and the Indian Super League. The giant-killing acts of Gokulam Kerala FC in the I-League too have caught the popular imagination.

All this offers hope for Kerala, which has come a long way from the time when half the Indian side spoke Malayalam. There have been occasions in the recent past when there wasn't a single Keralite in the national team.

The heroics of the Santosh Trophy team should attract more youngsters to the beautiful game. Kerala badly needs that.