If Tamil Nadu had been looking for some motivation before its match against Kerala on Sunday, it arrived in the form of raucous cheering from a sizeable crowd. Right from the time the home team entered the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the familiar medley of whistles and drum-beats took over.
Tamil Nadu’s players showed their gratitude with a 1-0 victory, triggering further delirium, on the opening day of the south zone phase of the Santosh Trophy National football championship. In a game that had all the trappings of a goal-fest, A. Raegan’s strike in the 30th minute was the only scoring entry.
Right from the outset, the host, playing 3-5-2, flaunted a sprightly midfield. The trio of skipper P. Sudhakar, L. Charles Anandaraj, and S. Santha Kumar conceived and put in place an efficient supply route. On one occasion, Sudhakar chipped the ball near the box, but Kerala’s captain and goalkeeper Jean Christian beat striker Raegan to it.
Kerala wasn’t as lucky the next time around as Anandaraj, from the centre, found Santha Kumar. The latter, hurtling along the left flank, served up a sweet cross that was gobbled up by an equally quick Raegan.Constant threat
The Anandaraj-Santha Kumar combine was a constant threat with the former’s positional-awareness and the latter’s pace.
Meanwhile, V.V. Surjith’s blast from nearly 40 yards forced the Tamil Nadu ’keeper A. Arun Pradeep to go airborne and dispatch it over the bar.
After the lemon break, the host reinforced its aggressive credentials, raiding the opponent’s half as a matter of right. But none of these forays materialised into goals owing to flimsy finishing. Raegan, exquisitely dodging a bunch of harried defenders on the left, poked the ball to Sudhakar, who fired it over the bar. Anandaraj, too, was guilty of letting slip a chance.
Kerala fluffed its lines regularly. Its striker R. Kannan, who was mostly underwhelming, slammed one forcefully only to be denied by Arun Pradeep’s fine save. The Tamil Nadu custodian was consistently brilliant, halting any late renaissance from Kerala.
Tamil Nadu coach C.M. Ranjith, although pleased with the win, conceded his team missed “sitters”. He added that the “fantastic atmosphere” and the crowd support had lifted the side.
Earlier, J. Shashank’s hat-trick helped Andhra Pradesh thrash Andaman & Nicobar 5-0 in a lopsided encounter.
The results: Tamil Nadu 1 (A. Raegan 30) bt Kerala 0; Andhra Pradesh 5 (J. Shashank 18, 58, 77; Alfred Tennyson 27; A.R. Naidu 79) bt Andaman & Nicobar 0.