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Kerala enjoy home comfort, Santosh Trophy crown

Beat Bengal 5-4 on penalties for seventh national football title.

Written by Narayanan S | Kochi |
Updated: May 3, 2022 2:41:17 pm
This is Kerala's first win in a Santosh Trophy tournament on home soil since the 1990-91 edition in Kochi. (Twitter/India Football Team)

In front of more than 26,000 fans, in a cauldron of noise at the Payyanad Stadium in Malappuram, hosts Kerala won their seventh Santosh Trophy title beating West Bengal in a penalty shootout (5-4), an encore of their 2018 triumph against the most successful team in the history of the national football championship.

The teams were level 1-1 after extra-time in a pulsating encounter in which plenty of chances were created at both ends with the finishing being astray. Two terrific headers from Dilip Orwan (Bengal) and Muhammed Safnad (Kerala) in extra-time took the game to penalties. In the tie-breaker, Kerala converted all their shots while Bengal’s Sajal Bag missed his. Sanju G, Bibin Ajayan, captain Jijo Joseph, Jesin TK and Fasalu Rahman scored for Kerala in the shootout. Orwan, Bablu Oran, Tanmoy Ghosh and goalkeeper Priyant Kumar found the back of the net for Bengal. Interestingly, during the the penalty shootout, Kerala changed their regular goalkeeper Midhun V with Hajmal S.

This is Kerala’s third win in a Santosh Trophy tournament on home soil. Earlier, they had won two editions in Kochi, in 1973-74 and 1992-93.

Orwan put Bengal ahead in the 97th minute after both teams could not be separated in regular time. He met substitute Supriya Pandit’s cross from the right with a powerful header to which Kerala goalkeeper Midhun had no answer. In the 116th minute, Safnad equalised for Kerala. Incidentally, it was another cross from the right flank that led to the goal. Noufal PN, who had been a livewire ever since he came on in the second half, lobbed the ball into the box and Safnad jumped high and beat the Bengal defenders to make it 1-1. The crowd, which had gone silent after the Bengal goal, believed again that this could be Kerala’s night.

After the win, Kerala coach Bino George thanked the crowd for their support. “Most of you would have thought that we had lost the game. But we came back because we are the Kerala team. We have not lost a game in the tournament because of the people and their support for us. I thank them and thank my boys. The win is theirs.”

Kerala captain Jijo Joseph, who was adjudged the player of the match for a commanding performance in the middle of the park, said: “I’m proud of my team. Especially my coach and the management. They have all been working hard. They made this victory possible. I thank the fans for their support.”

Earlier, George went in with the same line-up from their semifinal win against Karnataka and kept five-goal hero Jesin TK on the bench. Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacharya made one change to his starting line-up from the semifinal against Manipur as Nabi Hussain Khan replaced Basu Deb Mandi at the back. The move immediately paid dividends as Nabi Hussain almost put Bengal ahead in the third minute. He leapt for a corner from Fardin Ali Molla but his header went just wide.

Bengal dominated the early proceedings with more possession and better moves in the final third. In the 19th minute, Kerala got a free-kick and captain Jijo Joseph, who had already struck from a free-kick in the tournament, was expected to trouble the ’keeper. But his shot was weak and straight into the hands of Bengal goalkeeper Priyant Singh.

Four minutes later, a cross from Orwan from the left met an unmarked Mahoitosh Roy. But he missed the target as Kerala breathed a sigh of relief. After that Bengal attack, however, Kerala got into the game and it was the industrious display of Bengal right-back Jay Baz that kept the hosts’ attacks through the left under check.

In the 38th minute, Jesin TK came on for Viknesh M, who had missed a sitter five minutes earlier. Jesin manufactured his first real chance with clever footwork and a left-footed shot from 25 yards out which hardly tested the goalkeeper in the 63rd minute.

Noufal’s introduction in the second half made Kerala’s moves sharper and he almost did the trick for Kerala in injury time. He darted forward and squared the ball into the penalty area but Shighil could not keep his shot down. For Bengal, Nabi Hussain Khan and captain Monotosh Chakaladar were rock solid in defence as they stopped free-flowing Kerala from scoring for the first time in the tournament and took the game to extra-time.

For Bengal, who were looking for their 33rd Santosh Trophy, the result would be hard to take, especially after playing so well and taking the lead. In the 2018 final, they went down to Kerala 2-4 in penalties after the score was tied 2-2.

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Result: Kerala 1 (Muhammed Safnad 116′) bt Bengal 1 (Dilip Orwan 97′) 5-4 on penalties.

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