KOCHI: Kerala are one step away from creating history after they progressed to the final of the 72nd Santosh Trophy national football championship defeating Mizoram 1-0 at the end of an exciting semifinal clash at the Mohun Bagan Ground in Kolkata on Friday. In another semifinal, the defending champions West Bengal outplayed Karnataka 2-0 at the Sailen Manna Stadium.The final will be played at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
Kerala had to dig in and defend to reach their first final since the 2013 edition held at their home turf in Kochi and unlocked the Mizoram defence in their now trademark counter attacking football. Kerala’s successful combination of Jithin G, Jithin MS and Afdal VK worked a treat once again as they found the winner 10 minutes into the second half.
Jithin G broke down a Mizoram attack in the midfield and quickly released Jithin MS whose lightning quickness was too hot to handle for the defenders. The pacy winger reached the byline and played the ball across the goal where striker Afdal was waiting to tuck in the all-important goal.
“We knew the limitations of our squad and played accordingly against a stronger Mizoram side. We tried to defend and attack on the counter. It has worked once again and we are proud of the achievement already,” said Satheevan Balan, head coach of Kerala.
Bengal, on the other hand, got better of Karnataka, thanks to goals from Jiten Murmu in the 57th minute and Trithankar Sarkar in the additional minutes of the second half.
The first half witnessed Karnataka taking full control of the game but even the players like Jiten Murmu and Bidyashagar Singh didn’t have much of an impact to produce a goal. There were moments when Karanataka came close to scoring a goal. In the 17th minute, Sukesh Leon hit the woodwork with a header, but the goalkeeper Ranajit Majumder made three such saves.
Having missed half of the chances in the first half, Bengal played the second half in high tempo. This yielded two goals.
Both Bengal and Kerala had met in their final group match on Tuesday when Kerala emerged the winners with Rahul KP scoring the lone goal.
“Yes, we won against Bengal once. But that does not mean we go into the final as the favourites. They will want a revenge for the defeat and will come into the final with double determination. So, we have to be well prepared for Sunday’s game,” said Balan.
“We can create history as it was 14 years ago that Kerala last won the prestigious trophy, but we will play without pressure.”