Kerala secures Santosh Trophy with penalty-shootout victory

Bengal lost after having pulled level on the last minute of stoppage time in extra time.

The Kerala players celebrate with their Santosh Trophy title after defeating Bengal in the final.   -  AIFF Media

Kerala edged past Bengal via a penalty shootout to claim its sixth Santosh Trophy title at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Sunday. In a keenly-contested final, Kerala missed umpteen chances to let the match remain undecided at 2-2 after extra time.

However, the Satheevan Balan-coached side rode on two saves by goalkeeper Midhun V. to win the penalty shootout 4-2 and bring the trophy back to Kerala after 13 years.

Kerala banked on its robust game plan to keep Bengal at bay in the first half. The host showed aggression but Ankit Mukherjee and Jitin Murmu failed to capitalise on their chances.

Kerala showed its perfected art of scoring off counter-attacks when Seesan S.'s precise long ball set up an unmarked Jithin M. S., who ran unchallenged into the Bengal box and slotted the ball into the net between goalkeeper Ranajit Majumder legs to take the lead in the 19th minute.

Bengal's steady moves earned it a few opportunities but they were thwarted by a compact defensive wall consisting of Rahul V. Raj, Vibin Thomas and Lijo S. Dead ball specialist Tirthankar Sarkar's aerial ball was captured by Midhun at the right time and Bidyashagar Singh's attempt from close was saved by an alert Sreerag G.

Kerala had a few more chances; Jithin Gopalan could not connect one from the edge of the box, while Afdal V. K. skied his shot from the goalmouth to waste a superb move crafted by Anurag P.C.

A wasteful Kerala allowed Bengal to fight back in the second half as Anurag missed a sitter after receiving a fine pass from Jithin on the right. Bengal's efforts bore fruit in the 68th minute. Substitute Rajon Barman worked his way up on the right, squared it up inside the area for Murmu to strike high into the net.

Even though Bengal maintained pressure, Kerala managed to create chances. Jithin had a fine chance but he could not score from a rebound and Afdal hurried on a shot as the action stretched to the extra time.

After Bengal lost Barman to a red card for crashing into the rival keeper while crafting a move, Kerala scored through Thomas. He rose high to head in a Jestin George cross from the left. However, there was more late drama as Tirthankar's low left-footer free-kick from just outside the box beat Midhun in the dying moments of the game, taking the match to a penalty shootout.

Ankit Mukherjee and Nabi Hussain Khan missed the first two penalties for Bengal, while Kerala scored all four of its spot-kicks to win the shootout 4-2 and clinch the Santosh Trophy title.

The result (final): Kerala 2 (Jithin M.S. 19, Vibin Thomas 116) beat Bengal 2 (Jiten Murmu 68, Tirthankar Sarkar 120) via penalty shoot-out [Kerala 4 (Rahul V. Raj, Jithin Gopalan, Jestin George, Seesan S.) bt Bengal 2 (Tirthankar, Sanchayan Samadder).


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