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Kerala beat Bengal on penalties, end 13-season wait for Santosh Trophy

Regulation time ended 2-2 as 10-man Bengal came back twice before Kerala goalkeeper Midhun V saved two in the shootout to hand his side a sixth Santosh Trophy title

football Updated: Apr 02, 2018 19:33 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Kolkata
Santosh Trophy,Kerala football team,Bengal football team
Kerala defeated Bengal in penalties to win the Santosh Trophy for the sixth time in their history.(AIFF)

In the way Kerala failed to put away chances and then conceded from almost the last piece of action from open play, it seemed pre-destined that the Santosh Trophy would stay with 32-time champions Bengal for another year.

Then goalkeeper Midhun V saved the first two attempts in the shootout and finally it began to look like Kerala would be able to end their 13-season wait to win the men’s inter-state football championship here on Sunday. This is Kerala’s sixth title.

Rahul V Raj, Jithin Gopalan, Jestin George and Seesan S wrote their names into the state’s rich football history with smartly taken penalties to ensure a 4-2 win in the shootout after Bengal came back twice, the second goal coming in the 126th minute, to end extra-time at 2-2. By then, Bengal were down to 10 men after Rajon Burman was ejected for stabbing his leg into Midhun in the 112th minute.

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“Before the penalties, I told my goalie to focus on his right because usually two shots are hit on that side,” said Kerala coach Satheevan Balan. Midhun did and stopped identical penalties from left-back Ankit Mukherjee and right-back Nabi Hussain Khan.

“Three of my first-choice shooters weren’t available for the penalties,” said Bengal coach Ranjan Chaudhuri. Two of them, Bidyashagar Singh and Sourav Dasgupta, were injured and a third, Sumit Das, substituted to add muscle to the front third to prevent Bengal from being swept off the Salt Lake stadium pitch.

Their game unhinged by the wider park, the home team was trailing in the 19th minute when Jithin MS, Kerala’s wide right who was the fastest and most skilful player on view, exploited space left by Mukherjee to nutmeg goalkeeper Ranajit Majumder after latching on to a superb Seesan pass.

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The insurance goal could have come before half-time but, not for the first time in the afternoon, Afdal VK failed to slot home from close range. Jithin then ballooned over around the hour-mark and after a couple of half-chances, both off Tirthankar Sarkar’s free-kicks, Bengal equalised against the run of play.

Substitute Barman, for whom Das was sacrificed as Bengal switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 like Kerala, found his skipper and from between two defenders, Jiten Murmu scored with a left-footer in the 68th minute. That is how it stayed till the 117th because Rahul KP, Gopalan and Afdal, who was guilty twice more with Majumder out of position, couldn’t put the final to bed.

Kerala thought they had their hands on the trophy when George’s delivery had Majumdar missing the flight and Vibin Thomas heading home in the 117th minute. They fell in a celebratory heap but there would be yet another twist to the tale when Murmu won a free-kick and Bengal’s set-piece specialist Sarkar curled in a left-footed beauty. He and Sanchayan Samadder scored in the tie-breaker but Bengal were shut out in the shootout and Balan, 52, could finally say it was the best day of his career as a coach.

First Published: Apr 01, 2018 22:21 IST