No football lover could have asked for more. More than 90 minutes of normal playtime, extra time to fire every imagination, the penalty shootout and then the sudden death. The roaring Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, filled almost to capacity, fell silent when the Services team beat Kerala four goals to three after drawing three each at the penalty shootout of Santosh Trophy finals. All this while, Kerala goalkeeper Jean Christian sent hopes soaring for the home supporters with a superlative normal time performance and two scintillating saves during the shootout.
But that wasn’t enough. Nobody could stop the hand of fate. The Services team, which proved much better at tackling and tenacity, prevailed over Kerala, blighted by a lack of purpose, highlighted by failures in the home miles on several occasions.
It was a fight between ball skills and the ability to keep up the pace. The Kerala side was imaginative, but the monotonous Services remained steadfast; a mix that brought the audience to its feet every time Kerala wingers laboured their way into the box or the Services succeeded in stopping them.
The state’s passion for football was writ all over. Union minister for non-resident Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi, minister for excise and ports K. Babu, Benny Behnan and Dominic Presentation, MLAs, and corporation Mayor Tony Chammany were among those present to witness the match.
Either cheering or expressing their disappointments, the VIPs appeared to be a little partisan as they watched their favourite team labour to a draw at the end of the normal time and concede the initiative to a much physically superior Services at the end of the extra time.
However, when the Kerala goalkeeper stopped two shots by the Services in the penalty shootout, there was hope in the galleries. But it was football, in all its uncertainties, that prevailed. Kerala’s own Socrates, Kannan, had bus loads of supporters, the great gathering from Kerala’s northern districts, holding out his banners and urging him on.