Spreading the beautiful game across different states is one of the key objectives in Vision 2047, and the Federation has begun that process by taking the Hero Santosh Trophy to new heights. The-aiff.com is present in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, where the Final Round of the 76th National Football Championship for the Hero Santosh Trophy is taking place, to follow the progression of events in the premier state competition in the country.
AIFF Media Team
BHUBANESWAR: On a day of high drama and great action, Punjab and Karnataka sealed their spots in the semi finals of the 76th National Football Championship for the Hero Santosh Trophy, to be staged at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. The two teams had started the day as the ones occupying the top two spots on the table, and despite romantic hiccups, finished it much the same way. For defending champions Kerala, the road to defend their title ended here, and yet it ended in a blaze of glory, as they kept going right until the dying seconds of the game.
Kerala 1 (Vishak Mohanan 24’)
Punjab 1 (Rohit Sheikh 34’)
Kerala went into the game with the knowledge that only a win would take them through. It was simple maths and in the early going it looked like they had understood the assignment perfectly. PB Ramesh started without any out and out striker in his starting XI. In the opening quarter of an hour, the defending champions were so dominant on the ball that it was worth wondering what a top class striker could’ve done.
As it was though, the expertise of Nijo Gilbert, the tireless running of Mohamed Salim and the superb crossing by Arjun V was dispelled by the resolute duo of Gurtej Singh and Rajat Kumar. The two stewarts of the Punjab side were almost single handedly keeping the scoreline level, constantly sliding, tackling and clearing wave after wave of Kerala attack.
When the breakthrough came, it came via a brilliant move that spanned the length of the pitch, before Vishak Mohanan broke clear from a sliding Gurtej to cut back and score from a tight angle, albeit inside the six yard box. The jubilation it provoked was understandable. For the next ten minutes, in fact, despite trailing by a goal Punjab were also going through, because Karnataka were losing to hosts Odisha.
No one told them that though and breaking through on a counter attack, after Bhupinder Singh won the ball in midfield, Punjab got the equaliser to shock Kerala again. It was somewhat against the run of play and the two teams went into the break level.
In the second half, Ramesh brought on the experienced G Sanju to replace Belgin and his composure at the back began to tell. Kerala started building with patience, pushing forward in numbers and winning the ball constantly in midfield. Punjab retreated, and were forced into playing low and relying on their two centre backs power and experience.
And yet, Kerala had multiple chances to score, Harpreet Singh making multiple crucial saves, and Rajat clearing off the line twice to ensure they did not concede. In the end, as the clock ticked away, Kerala’s desperation grew, and yet the goal did not arrive, the defending champions missing out on a berth to Riyadh.
Karnataka 2 (M Sunil Kumar 17’, Shajan Franklin 50’)
Odisha 2 (Prabin Tigga 21’, Chandra Muduli 35’)
Despite being safe for the most part Karnataka knew that any slip up would cost them dearly, and against opposition who were keen to salvage pride from their home tournament, a strong display became imperative.
Despite a slightly shoddy performance Karnataka will be relieved to be through, and would have no doubt been on the edge of their seats watching the Kerala, Punjab game’s final moments (Karnataka’s encounter, played at the Capital Football Arena came to an end four minutes before Kerala’s at the 7th Battalion Ground, due to lesser injury time).
For Odisha, the result was illustrative of their time in this home tournament. They have impressed for large periods but their inability to hold on to a lead has been their bane in the Hero Santosh Trophy.
Maharashtra 2 (Himanshu Patil 5’, 89’)
Maharashtra wrapped up their tournament with a comfortable win over Goa in the first game of the day at the Capital Football Arena. With both teams already knocked out of the competition, this dead rubber was all about pride. Steven Dias’ team have been a mixed bag in the tournament, their quality on the ball and ability to score goals, among the best in the Final Rounds (they scored in every game they played in Odisha and scored more than one goal in four of their five games). A lack of composure and experience in a young squad showed, often in the final ten minutes of their games, when Maharashtra have leaked equalisers and squandered leads.
Today though there was no such drama, Himashu Patil scored once right in the beginning and once right at the end to wrap up a deserved three points. For Goa, the miserable tournament was over. They lost five straight games in the Final Round.