Santosh Trophy
Meghalaya rally to hold Kerala; Goa move to top of Group A
25 Feb 2024

AIFF Media Team

YUPIA, ARUNACHAL PRADESH: Last season's finalists Meghalaya finally opened their tally in Group A of the 77th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy Final Round as they drew 1-1 with Kerala at the Golden Jubilee Stadium in Yupia on Sunday, February 25, 2024.

After Naresh Bhagyanathan had given the 2022 champions Kerala a fourth-minute lead, the rest of the contest was only about a desperate Meghalaya side searching for an equaliser which they got from Sheen Stevenson Sohktung's 77th-minute penalty. After three games played, Kerala now have four points, while Meghalaya are on one.

Both sides made a host of changes to their starting line-ups following defeats in their previous matches. The move bore fruit for Kerala as two new faces combined for the opening goal in the fourth minute.

Riswanali Edakkavil lifted a perfectly weighted ball forward for Naresh Bhagyanathan, who didn't have to break stride and toed it past goalkeeper Siwel Rymbai into the bottom corner. Naresh was close to getting a second in the 20th minute but was denied by Dawanpliedad Myrchiang's goal-line block. The Kerala striker was the quickest to react after Jithin Gopalakrishnan's low shot was spilled by Rymbai, but Myrchiang was in the right place at the right time to prevent the goal.

It was then time for Meghalaya to push forward for the equaliser, with Sohktung playing a key role. The 27-year-old forward sent a cushioned header inches wide of the far post from a Kitboklang Pale cross before his curling free-kick from a narrow-angle was tipped over by Kerala goalkeeper Mohammed Azhar.

The second half was all Meghalaya in attack. Khlain Pyrkhat Syiemlieh's side were guilty of missing some clear-cut opportunities like in the 59th minute when Pale, on the rebound after Nikelson Bina's shot was saved, could only hit the side-netting in front of an open goal. 10 minutes later, Meghalaya failed to capitalise on a communication error between Azhar and Akbar Sidhique as Bina side-footed his effort wide. Skipper Donborlang Nongkynrih also should've done better when he pounced on a loose ball but couldn't generate enough power on his shot, which was easily gathered by Azhar.

However, the equaliser finally arrived in the 77th minute courtesy of Sarath KP bringing down Sohktung in the box. The goal didn't come without a hiccup though. Sohktung's penalty was saved by Azhar's right palm, but the Meghalaya forward was the quickest to the rebound and stabbed it home.

Goa move to top of Group A
Goa's fine form continued as they beat Services 2-1 in the day's opening game. Despite Services creating more pressure for the majority of the game, it was Lloyd Cardozo who broke the deadlock for Goa in the 70th minute with a clean header from Jobern Cardozo's cross. Substitute Joshua D'Silva then made sure of the points after he went down in the box and converted a penalty in the 89th minute. For Services, P Christopher Kamei's fine left-footed finish into the bottom corner in the 91st minute was only good for a consolation.

Hosts Arunachal fall short against Assam
Assam made it two wins in a row as they beat Arunachal Pradesh 2-0 in Sunday's evening fixture. Tournament top-scorer Dipu Mirdha struck early in the sixth minute, sweeping in captain Milan Basumatary's cutback from the by-line. Assam's lead stayed at one goal until Akrang Narzary thumped home a half-volley in the 94th minute after Arunachal failed to clear Pragyan Gogoi's corner. Assam moved up to third place with six points, while Arunachal remained rock bottom with a solitary point.

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