Confident Kerala takes on Services

IMPHAL OCT. 31. Defending champion Kerala, high in form and confidence, looks to be in the right shape for the semifinal against Services in the 58th National football championship for the LG Santosh Trophy at the Main Stadium in Khuman Lampak Sports Complex here on Friday.

Preserving its status as one of the superpowers of the sport, Goa meets host Manipur — the local favourite — in the second semifinal on Saturday. Kerala, which beat Tamil Nadu 5-3 for entering the final last year, has a new opposition in Services.

Kerala coach M. Purushothaman put his faith in his express forward line-up — comprising Asif Saheer, Abdul Hakkim, Sylvester Ignatious and super-substitute T. Usman — and hoped the ``boys will repeat the strong showing they have put up in the quarterfinal league stage beating Bengal and Assam".

Kerala has impressed as the most compact team with balance in all the departments — defence, midfield and forward. Playing in the 4-3-3 format Kerala has been able to strike the right cord with the likes of seasoned Suresh Babu and international K. Ajayan operating untiringly to feed the team's three-man attack. The defence with Mohammad Shafeeq and Vinoo Jose in the middle has rarely been porous and the two men on the wings — Bineesh K and Sameer K. — have been excellent.

On the other hand Services, rarely looked upon as a team to make it to the last-four stage, has come up through the rigours of the qualifiers. Its two forwards Preetam Bahadur and Raghu Kumar have shared the responsibility upfront. While Bahadur is a finisher, Kumar shone as the ball player creating opportunities for the former on the goal-mouth. Another Services player who is likely to play a prime role tomorrow is midfielder Pradeep Debnath.

Debnath alongwith Irduyaraj and Bikash Gurung has maintained a steady supply for the forwards and this trio will have to continue their good showing against Kerala. There are no major card problems for these two teams.

Goa to miss D'Cunha

In the second semifinal, Goa will miss the services of its star striker Alvito D'Cunha, who is serving a two-match suspension for abusing the referee. D'Cunha's replacement Sukhdev Arvade has not done bad as Goa beat Karnataka 2-1 to ensure its place in the semifinals. Nitin Pradhan, the other striker now has to play a key role in his team's charge for the final. Goa's strength remains its midfield and the team can hope that the likes of Dennis Cabral, Savio Pereira, Jules Alberto and winger Menino Fernandes repeat their show against their quarterfinal opponent.

Manipur upbeat

Manipur, making its first semifinal, is high on hopes and has made a strong side importing big names from famed clubs of Goa and Bengal. Forward

Bijen Singh has so far scored the most number of goals (9) in the tournament, while his teammate Tiken has matched his scoring abilities. The midfield — having international Renedy Singh, Sonaton Singh, Tomba Singh and James Singh — have been good but not consistent. Having such big names and with tremendous crowd support, Manipur looks to upstage Goa on Saturday for its maiden entry to the final.

Fines and suspensions

The tournament disciplinary committee has decided to be tough with the whims and fancies of the players and acted very strongly on the referees' reports recommending punishment for six players and an official with suspensions and fines.

Tamil Nadu was the worst affected as its five players getting ban for periods ranging between six months and one year. Kalia Kulothungan, the forward who was ejected for two bookings in the match against Manipur on Wednesday, has been given one year ban and a fine of Rs. 10,000. Four others — F. Jegan (who also received a red card in the same match as Kulothungan), R. Palmson Moses, D. Pugazhendi and C. Premnath — have been suspended for six months and fined Rs. 5,000 each. Three more players — T. Edwin Raj, V.K. Harish and A. Jestes Anthony —

have been let off with a warning. All these players were summoned by the

disciplinary committee on Thursday morning after it was presented with reports from the referee, M.K. Roy of Assam. Two from Bengal — midfielder Chandan Das and assistant coach Sishir Ghosh — have also been hauled up for their "misconduct'' against the referee, Rizwanul Haq, during their quarterfinal match against Kerala on Sunday. The two have been awarded a two-month suspension and fined Rs. 5,000 each. According to the disciplinary committee — which also has the match commissioner, referees inspector as the representatives of the national governing body — notification the punishments come into immediate effect.

All these decisions, however, have to be ratified by the All India Football

Federation's disciplinary committee before it comes into effect. The AIFF

secretary, Mr. Alberto Colaco told The Hindu from Margao that the disciplinary committee would be meeting soon to deliberate on the sanctions. He added that the reports of the referees and decision of the tournament disciplinary committee would be given the maximum weightage and the reported acts of misconduct against the players would be dealt severely.

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