The host enters the semifinal after a draw with Haryana; J&K jolts UP
Despite letting in a late goal that set off last-minute worries, Kerala entered the semifinals of the 67th Santosh Trophy National football championship at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday evening. Haryana equalled with a 90th-minute strike after the home striker R. Kannan had given the lead with a 58th-minute beauty. Though disappointing, the draw was enough for Kerala to top the group.
“This is happening once too often… even in the last match, we let in a last-minute goal,” said M.M. Jacob, the Kerala coach who has guided the team to its second successive semifinal, after the match. “We should have easily scored some more goals.”
The host should have easily scored two goals within the first half hour but forward Usman shot wide from the right in the 18th minute after the other frontman Kannan kept the Haryana goalkeeper Machhinder engaged with his first try from the left.
Usman was the culprit again in the 30th minute, shooting wide from close range after collecting a cross from Sumesh from the right. And the first half went goalless. There were many misses in the next session too.
The problems in the central midfield continued to trouble Kerala but it was a central midfielder, captain P. Rahul who had a hand in the opening goal. Rahul, who had been rather off-colour for a major part of the first session, sent a straight one from the right that cut through the Haryana defence and found Usman just inside the box.
Usman was quick to relay a cross to striker R. Kannan who easily beat the goalkeeper Machhinder with a smart shot.
Haryana was without its star forward Vikas, who struck two fine goals in the team’s victory over J&K in the last game, and this hurt the side badly.
Vikas had picked two yellows and had to stay out, offering Kerala a huge advantage.
Haryana’s central defenders Sandeep Baloda and Ashish also put up many hurdles for Kerala, stopping the many crosses from the left, from Vineeth Antony and from the right from Sumesh.
Haryana’s equaliser came from the right a couple of seconds before the three-minute injury time signal came up with the Kerala boys lowering their guard.
The Kerala goalkeeper Jean Christian stretched but he couldn’t collect Vivek’s long cross from the right. And Pankaj Sura just had to tap the loose ball in. Which he did.
The draw helped Kerala top the four-team Group C with seven points and grab the semifinal berth from the pool.
The host will meet Maharashtra, the Group B topper, in the first semifinal here on Thursday.
Earlier, Jammu and Kashmir, which was languishing at the bottom of the group, pulled off a surprise 2-1 win over Uttar Pradesh and this after conceding a self goal early in the game.
After UP went ahead through the rival defender Wazim Feroz’s self goal in the fifth minute, J&K hit back through goals from Aman Rashid and Rizwan Sheikh in a 17-minute spell midway through the second half.
But the match was only of academic interest.
The results (quarterfinal league, Group C): Kerala 1 (R. Kannan 58) drew with Haryana 1 (Pankaj Sura 90).
J&K 2 (Aman Rashid 40, Rizwan Sheikh 57) bt UP 1 (Wazim Feroz 5 OG).
Wednesday’s matches (Group A): Services v Odisha, Railways v Madhya Pradesh.