67th Santosh Trophy: Kerala overcome Maharashtra in overtime
Shimin Lal of Kerala made sure that there would be more people at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium than the picturesque Kerala backwaters on Sunday, March 3 by scoring the 2-1 winner late in extra-time against Maharashtra in the first semifinal of the 67th Santosh Trophy.
The five-time Nationals champions will now face either defending champions Services or Punjab in the summit clash on Sunday.It was the home side who looked the hungrier of the two to draw first blood in a riveting contest where both the outfits went for the offensive from the word go.
In the opening exchanges, Kannan’s shot was ably blocked by the Ranjan Salam of Maharashtra for a corner. The resultant flag kick saw Kannan’s partner upfront Usman rise above the visitors’ defenders to send a stinging header inches wide.
Every attempt on goal got a loud cheer from the crowd who thronged in numbers to watch their team in action. Kerala came closest to scoring in the final third of the first essay when Usman’s angled left footer missed the target with the goalkeeper at his mercy.
The hosts had a moment of alarm too. Goalkeeper Jean Christian needlessly came out of his line in the 43rd minute to catch the loose ball. It needed winger Sumesh’s alacrity to make up for the custodian’s goof up.
The feted Maharashtra ex-international duo of N.P. Pradeep and Mohammed Rafi – both from Kerala – were bottled up expertly by the Kerala defence. To make matters worse, Rafi picked up an injury in the first half and had to be replaced by Anas Ibnu Salam in the 36th minute. Kerala started the match without their regular captain P Rahul – ruled out due to injury. His replacement Nazarudeen too could not last the distance, picking up a niggle in the 33rd minute.
Things changed after the break. Usman’s powerful strike in the 53rd minute struck the horizontal. Referee Ranjith Bakshi pointed towards the dreaded spot seconds later, due to a handball inside the box during the melee that followed the shot. The lanky striker converted with minimal fuss, sending the goalkeeper in the wrong direction.
But out of the blue, the visitors equalised through F. Lalrempuia in the 71st minute. Breaking the avalanche of attacks from Kerala, Lalrempuia unleashed a perfect right-footer from outside the box to beat Jean Christian in the Kerala goal to bring the match on level terms. This meant extra-time.
Shibin Lal, brilliantly set-up by substitute Ahammed Malik, set the crowd on fire after letting loose a rasping right-footer from the edge of the 18-yard box in the 118th minute. This meant that Kerala would contest Sunday’s final.