Santosh Trophy South Zone qualification: Kerala blanks Lakshadweep

Alson hattricks in Puducherry's big win over Andaman and Nicobar.

Nijo Gilbert (No. 16) converting a penalty to score Kerala's opening goal in the Santosh Trophy South Zone qualifiers.   -  H. VIBHU

Kerala thrashed a 10-man Lakshadweep 5-0 in its Santosh Trophy South Zone qualification round opener played behind closed doors at the Nehru Stadium here on Wednesday but the big victory also showed that the six-time champion has much work to do on its finishing.

The host should have easily netted five more goals for it created plenty of chances, with midfielder Arjun Jayaraj doing much of the good work, but messed them all with poor finishing.

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Lakshadweep is one of the two weaklings in the Group 'B' here and it does not have a proper set-up for its boys to play the game regularly back home. To add to its woes, nothing went right for the team today. It conceded a penalty soon after the start, was down to 10 men midway through the first half with defender K.K.N. Ubaidulla being sent off for bringing down a goal-bound Muhammed Safnad and a little later conceded an own goal. And near the hour mark, its main goalkeeper Shameer Shaik had to be replaced after suffering an injury.

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But Kerala, the favourite to top the group, failed to capitalise on these setbacks and there was a blank 45-minute phase between the third and fourth goals which should be a cause for worry. Jayaraj was the host's creative spark in the middle while defender Saheef also impressed as he moved up on the left and sent a series of crosses into the box.

Of the five, Jesin Thonikkara's goal stood out as he made a long charge through the middle and foxed the goalkeeper to find the net in the 12 minute but the forward and others missed plenty of chances after that.

Meanwhile Puducherry, riding on Alson's hat-trick, blanked Andaman and Nicobar 8-0 in another match.

The results: Kerala 5 (Nijo Gilbert penalty 4, Jessin Thonikkara 12, Mohammed Thanveer own goal 37, S. Rajesh 82, Arjun Jayaraj 90+2) bt Lakshadweep 0.

Puducherry 8 (John Maju 10, Alson 16, 65, 66; Sri Rajendra Prasad 45+2, 73; Raul Palin 68, Maria Vivek 87) bt Andaman & Nicobar 0.

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