Faslurahman Methukayil thrashed the ball from the penalty spot into the top right corner to help Kerala win the 75th Santosh Trophy, much to the delight of the full-capacity crowd at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium on Monday (May 2). Hosts Kerala beat West Bengal 5-4 on penalties to lift the Santosh Trophy for the seventh time.
After a cagey affair in regulation time, the hosts went down by a goal in the 97th minute of extra-time. However, a leaping header from Bibin Ajayan restored parity for Kerala in the 117th, sinking Bengal hearts. With momentum and history on their side, the Jewel of South India emerged victorious in the penalty shootout after West Bengal's Sajal Bag scuffed his penalty high and wide.
Kerala came into the final of the Santosh Trophy after thrashing Karnataka 7-3 in the semi-finals, thanks to five astounding goals from Jesin TK off the bench. Meanwhile, West Bengal registered a clinical 3-0 victory against Manipur. In the group stages, though, the hosts trounced West Bengal 2-0.
However, given the pedigree of West Bengal, the most successful team in Santosh Trophy history, you would expect nothing but a fight from them despite the previous results. And fight they did.
Ranjan Bhattacharjee's men started the game with a lot of panache as they created half-chances from the get-go. In the fifth minute, Fardin Ali Molla drilled in a juicy cross from a corner situation, however, Nabi Khan's effort was wide of the target. West Bengal were adventurous in their approach as they pressed high up the pitch in the initial phase.
Once again in the 23rd minute, the visitors carved out an opportunity to score when Dilip Orawn played a delightful cross down the left for Mahitosh Roy. However, the the latter failed to make the desired contact with the ball. Realizing that the game might be slipping out of their grip with the conservative approach, Kerala upped the ante.
In the 33rd minute, Kerala found themselves at the end of a glorious opportunity to draw first blood. Viknesh, set through on goal, found himself in a one-on-one situation with Bengal custodian Priyant Kumar Singh. However, the forward managed to slash his effort wide even with the goal gaping.
Both teams ended the half on level terms. Carrying on with the momentum built towards the end of the first half, Kerala started to spread their wings and pin back the Bengal side. The hosts were presented with another golden chance to take the lead when Jijo Joseph won the ball in the opposition half after an absolute defensive blunder. However, his shot from inside the box was narrowly wide of the right post.
After the hour mark, the game evolved into an end-to-end encounter with both sides growing desperate. West Bengal had an opportunity when Supriya Pandit crossed from the right flank, but Fardin yet again couldn't keep his header on target.
Bibin Ajayan's late equalizer gives Kerala a lifeline against West Bengal in the Santosh Trophy Final
The tie remained goalless after the 90 minutes with both sides lacking the golden touch. Starting out in the first half of extra-time, West Bengal were explosive from the get-go. Finally, in the 97th minute, the visitors were rewarded for their efforts and took the lead through Dilip Orawn. Supriya drilled in a cross from the right and Orawn thumped it home with a flying header.
West Bengal looked set to take revenge for their loss in the Santosh Trophy 2018 final at the hands of the same opponents. But three minutes away from the final whistle, Bibin Ajayan pulled Kerala from the dead to equalize the score. The home side wasted a couple of half chances before the end of extra-time. However, West Bengal too missed a glorious opportunity in the dying moments.
On penalties, both teams converted all their spotkicks bar one and that's eventually what decided the fate of the exhilarating finale. Fireworks filled the Malapurram sky as Kerala won the coveted Santosh Trophy title on home soil for the first time since 1993.