Jithin M S is just one among the many players in Kerala’s Santosh Trophy team that had impressed with their showing in the The New Indian Express GOAL 2018. As many as nine players in Kerala’s 20-member squad wore their college team’s colours for GOAL 2018.
KOCHI: With their sights trained on a maiden Santosh Trophy triumph in 14 years, a young Kerala team have been firing on all cylinders in the 72nd edition of the national football championship which is currently underway at Kolkata -- the Mecca of Indian football.
Fielding their youngest ever squad for the championship, Kerala have stormed into the semifinals of the prestigious tournament and is now being touted by several pundits as a strong favourite to lift the title.
Kerala had qualified from the south zone brushing aside Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh earlier in January and began their campaign in the nationals thrashing Chandigarh 5-1 in the group match on March 19.
They went one better in their next match as they put six goals past a hapless Manipur side on March 23 followed by a 3-0 defeat of Maharashtra who were considered one of the stronger sides in their pool.They also beat hosts and defending champions West Bengal 1-0 on Tuesday.
One player that has garnered high praise for Kerala's outstanding displays is Jithin M S, the right winger who has been in scintillating form during the past few months.
The Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur student is just one among the many players in this Kerala side that had impressed with their showing in the The New Indian Express GOAL 2018 all-Kerala inter-collegiate football tournament at the Maharaja's College Stadium in Kochi less than two months ago.
"Jithin is an exceptional player -- someone who we will definitely see in the Indian Super League and I-League in a few years' time.
He has the pace and the trickery to get past the players. Couple that with his vision on the field and eye for goal, we have a complete player," said Kerala head coach Satheevan Balan.
"Jithin is the one player who is keeping this young side ticking and we will want him at his brightest if we are to achieve our target in the tournament," he waxed lyrical about the midfielder who won the best player and top scorer awards at GOAL 2018. With many of the footballers from the state signing for ISL side Kerala Blasters and I-League club Gokulam Kerala FC, Balan had a rather shallow pool of players to pick from for the Santosh Trophy.
That is when Balan turned to the talent pool in the state's colleges.
"We called up players who had participated in the all-India inter-university championship and played the qualifiers. My trust in the players I picked where increased when I saw them play in GOAL 2018. This also gave me certain ideas on how to utilise these players in slightly different ways," said Balan.
Jithin has found the net four times in three matches for Kerala while his namesake Jithin G, who appeared for Christ College, Irinjalakuda in GOAL 2018, is also in fine fettle. Players who lit up GOAL 2018 like strike Afdal V K, Sreekuttan V S and Anurag P C are also helming Kerala's progress in the tournament.
"All these players play a key role in our squad. Afdal who was picked from MES College, Mampad is a strong physical presence up front. He can win the ball from the opposition and hold it well. He can also battle it with the defenders and pop in a goal or two," said Balan.
As many as 9 players in Kerala's 20-member squad wore their college team's colours for GOALS 2018 while another six, including captain Rahul V Raj and goalkeeper Midhun V. "We have done well so far in the tournament. But the semifinal stage will be a different ball game. We need to be at the top of our game and must take our chances," said captain Rahul. Kerala will face either Mizoram or Karnataka in the semis to be held on March 30. The final is on April 1.
GOAL 2018 players in Kerala squad
Justin George - Baselius College, Kottayam
Jithin G - Christ College, Irinjalakuda
Jithin MS - Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur
Afdal VK - MES College, Mampad, Malappuram
Hajmal S - University College, T'Puram
Anurag PC - Farook College, Kozhikode
Sreekuttan V S - St Thomas College, Thrissur
Shamnaz BL - Mar Athanasius College, Kothamangalam
Muhammed Parakkottil - Christ College, Irinjalakuda