KOZHIKODE: “This is like a World Cup for us. We want to win it again,” Kerala team head coach Bino George said after his side beat Tamil Nadu 6-0 in the do-or-die clash of the South Zone qualifiers played at the EMS Corporation Stadium on Saturday.“This is just one more step. The main round is going to be tough. We need to start from scratch again. The mission will only be accomplished when we get the win in Mizoram (where the final round will be held).”
There was a healthy crowd in attendance to watch the Group A encounter where the winner would go through to the main round. No one in the stadium would have expected this result, but Tamil Nadu’s head coach showed no surprise.“This is our heaviest defeat at nationals. But at one point, we may not even have been able to send a team for the Santosh Trophy,” said Jestes Antony.
Going into the qualifiers, the preparations of both teams were contrasting. Kerala brought in a high-profile coach, recruited players from ISL and I-League sides and played friendly against the likes of Gokulam Kerala FC, Kerala Blasters and FC Goa. For Tamil Nadu, they could barely string together a team. “Some of the players went to other states because there was no league in the last year. The performance and the player development suffered. It’s because of the issues between the Chennai Football Association and Tamil Nadu Football Association. There were thoughts of not sending a team but TFA took the initiative and so we’ve a team,” said Jestes.
Tamil Nadu had two days to recover as opposed to Kerala’s four. Whether that affected their performance or not is anyone’s guess but the visitors were over-run by the hosts. Their midfield was non-existent and it was like target practice for the Kerala attackers. Even though Tamil Nadu lost 6-0, their goalkeeper Dinesh Jerome had a decent outing when compared to the performance of the players in front of him. Result: Kerala 6 (PV Vishnu 24, Jithin MS 33, 45, Mousoof Naizan 83, Jijo Joseph 92, Emil Benny 94) TN 0.