Santosh Trophy: Services marches on, early exit for Kerala

Services pulled out the best from its bag to oust defending champion Kerala by a solitary goal in the South Zone qualifiers of Santosh Trophy.

Services' players celebrate their win over defending champion Kerala.   -  Rayan Rozario

Former champion Services pulled out the best from its bag to oust defending champion Kerala by a solitary goal in the South Zone qualifiers of the 73rd Santosh Trophy at the Bharathi Stadium here on Friday.

Services could have well sealed the deal the other day by defeating Telangana but fell short miserably to hand over the advantage of qualifying to the latter. The team knew it would be a difficult journey from there as Telangana had everything in its armoury to gun down Pondicherry.

But the latter battled to its might to hold the former goalless in the morning. That came as a huge breather for defending champion Kerala and Services, which played later in the day. Services thanked its stars for the chance and, made the best use of it to post a well-deserved win.

It was Bikash Thapa’s 63rd minute effort that sealed the fate of Kerala. He dribbled past the defenders with ease and tapped the ball gently into the net - much to the joy of the team. And the Services camp celebrated the moment hugging each other.

From there, Services tightened its defence to make sure that victory did not slip its hands.

“Nothing comes easy and we had to really sweat to beat a team like Kerala. Our mindset was very strong – to come out victorious. Our boys showed the right attitude and character and that reflected in today’s win,” said Parshuram Salwadi, Services Head coach.

He thanked Pondicherry for the lifeline. “If it had not put up a strong show against Telangana it would have been all over for us. It played brilliantly and that paved the way for us to qualify.”

Telangana boys, who had come to watch the evening battle, went home disappointed as a draw or a Kerala victory, with a 1-0 margin, would have helped their cause. “We did not perform. Even those few chances that came our way we failed to utilise, especially in the fag end of the match,” said Shabbir Ali, its coach.

“But I am still proud of them. I did not expect them to come this far as we were pitted against some of the best in the group,” he added.

The result:

Telangana 0 drew with Pondicherry 0.

Services 1 (Bikash Thapa 63) bt Kerala 0.

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