Kerala storms into their 14th Santosh Trophy showdown in the 72nd edition

30th March’18 Kolkata:  Kerala reached their 14th Santosh Trophy final in the 72nd edition after a gap of four years; as they upset a young Mizoram side by a solitary goal, and will battle it out  against the defending champions Bengal on Sunday, in the Salt Lake YBK Stadium.

The only goal of the match came in the 54th minute when Afdal VK who came onto the pitch in the added injury time of the first half slotted home the winner. It was totally against the run of the play and with this goal Afdal’s goal tally goes up to 3 in this edition of Santosh Trophy

Contrary to the scoreline Mizoram dominated the proceedings from the word go. The first chance for them fell in the 6th minute when Lal Romawia squared the ball to his right to the 27 year old former Aizawl FC winger Lalbiakhlua whose cross, aimed at the mid-box couldn’t be reached by their striker Lal Remruata. They got two more threatening chances in the opening 15 minutes, but were eventually denied by the Kerala backline, which was lead by their skipper Rahul V Raj.

Mizoram seemed more attacking of the two as they relied on their characteristics wing play with Lalbiakhlua and Malsawmdang Liana causing enough problems to Kerala backline through the incisive runs down the flanks.

In the 16th minute a valiant effort by the high-flying Lal Romawia was handsomely saved by Kerala custodian. He got a  nice bisecting pass from Liana through the left and took a cracking shot from 10 yards outside the box as Midhun the Kerala goalie dived full length to his right to deny the north-eastern side an early opener.

Mizoram continued to penetratre from the right ,where they often developed nice movements. In the 29th minute, it was the full back Malsawma who overlapped through the right flanks and put a dangerous cross in, to which neither of the Mizo-forwards could inflict a touch and get the deadlock broken from a handshaking distance with the Keralite goalie.

Kerala had rare chances in this half and took a pragmatic approach but didn’t ever made a single mistake in their box. Rahul V Raj and Seesan S along with Sreerag seemed to be calm as an ice  to deter every attack by the north-eastern side and went into the halftime, goalless.

Second half started with Kerala trying to press more into the midfield but Lijo S got the wrath of the referee in the 49th minute. It was the first booking of the match as the Keralite defender went ahead with a harsh tackle on Lalremruata near the D box.

Kerala took the elusive lead in the 54th minute of the match when Afdal VK, who came into the pitch at the stroke of the half time slotted home the only goal of the match. It was a brilliant 70 yards sprint from the lanky Keralite winger Jithin MS that saw a harmless counter turn fatal. He took the run beyond the half line and went past three defenders on his way ,stretching the Mizo backline.

His minus from the right flank saw the Mizo goalie commit earlier than required as he missed the ball, completely. Rahul KP who was in the middle ; waiting for the ball, shot it straight into a Mizo wall at the goalline. The shot took their deflection and went on to hit the left bar-post. Afdal showed a tremendous presence of mind to come off from the right and blasted the rebound into the back of the net and gave his side the much needed lead.

Kerala could’ve again taken the lead 7 minutes later when Jithin replicated the same run and cut through the middle only to delay the final pass to Rahul KP as Hming averted the danger with timely intercept. Mizoram got frustrated with plenty of chances paying null dividends and continued to attack without any conversion in the final third.

In the 69th minute Malsawma delivered a nice threatening cross from the right into the top box but Lal Remruata couldn’t meet it with a header which could’ve been an equalizer from the Highlanders.

Mizoram, who was without their head coach Lalsangzuala Hmar, suspended from the last match, made several changes at the later stage of the match as they were seen to approach a full attacking mode, going with the formation 3-2-5 at one point.

Mizoram went on with their attacking spree & got a glorious chance in the dying minutes when Rahul V Raj the Keralite centre-back first blocked a threatening shot from Lalbiakhlua ; then  Rammawia, the substitute,  had his attempt brilliantly denied by the diving Keralite goalie before a horrible altercation that broke out in the Kerala goal.

Lal Rammawia was visibly upset  and started the squabble and was immediately booked by referee C. Sumankumar who did well to break the ice between the two sides. Mizoram tried until the final seconds and would rue the absence of their head coach Lalsangzuala Hmar in the technical area; while Kerala broke into wild celebration after reaching the finals 4 years later.

They will battle it out with the defending champions and host West Bengal on Sunday afternoon for the coveted glory of 72nd Santosh Trophy. The final is tipped to be held at the gorgeous YBK Stadium in Salt Lake,Kolkata.