Santosh Trophy Shocker: Defending Champions Kerala knocked out; Runners-up Bengal ousted 

Action from the Kerala vs Telangana (in yellow) Santosh Trophy South Zone Qualifying Round match
Action from the Kerala vs Telangana (in yellow) Santosh Trophy South Zone Qualifying Round match
Alby Issac

Things turned sour for the legends in Indian football as defending champions Kerala and runners-up West Bengal crashed out of the Santosh Trophy (Senior National Football Championship), without making it to the final round.

The two biggest football states in the country - Kerala and Bengal couldn't qualify from the Southern and Eastern zones respectively. In a surprising turn of events, Karnataka, Telangana, Sikkim and Odisha advanced from their respective groups in the 78-year-old tournament.

Kerala started their proceedings this year under the guidance of VP Shaji, who had nine new faces in the squad. But the teamsheet that had a bunch of fresh legs couldn't compensate for the space left out by the experienced campaigners from the previous season.

This major drawback was evident in all the three games Kerala appeared. Kerala first played out a goalless draw against Telangana on Monday. They were also held 0-0 against Pondicherry.

Finally, Kerala had their fingers crossed in the last group game. Telangana's draw with Pondicherry gave the God's Own Country an opportunity to qualify provided they defeat Services by a 2-goal margin. However, Services got the better of Kerala with Vikas Thapa scoring in the 63rd minute against the Santosh Trophy holders. Alex Saji was sent off in the match for Kerala.

Sikkim Through, Bengal Out

In the East Zone, it was West Bengal who were knocked out. The most successful team in the history of the Santosh Trophy, with 32 championships, finished 2nd in the 3-team Group B of East Zone.

West Bengal began their campaign against Bihar with a 1-0 victory, With only two matches to be played, every 90 minutes proved crucial for the side. In Sikkim's first game, they defeated Bihar 4-1, which gave the side an advantage on goal difference.

On Thursday, when West Bengal faced its challengers Sikkim, a 1-1 draw was all that they could take out of it.

This resulted in Sikkim leading the table with 4 points, only to be followed by West Bengal with the same number of points, but with an inferior goal difference. While Sikkim enjoyed a +3 goal difference, Bengal had only +1, which ensured Sikkim a smooth ticket to the national rounds.

Santosh Trophy is played out in 5 different zones. The two best teams from each zone qualify for the final group round. The Zonal games are to be played out till 16 February, after which the final rounds will commence.

Edited by Aravind Suchindran


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