Kerala defeated defending Champions Bengal 4-2 on penalties after the full-time scoreline read 2-2 to win the 72nd Hero Santosh Trophy at the Vivekananda Yuvabharati Krirangan in Kolkata, their first in 14 years.
Jithin MS scored in the 19th minute for Kerala while Jiten Murmu drew level in the 68th minute. In extra time, Vibin Thomas first found the net in the 117th minute after Rajon Burman was sent off. Tirthankar scored late into injury time for Bengal to take the game to penalties where Kerala emerged eventual victors.
Bengal were on the attack from the early minutes of the match. Tirthankar Sarkar had two freekick chances from the left side of the area within the first six minutes. While the first one was duly cleared by the Kerala wall, left-back Sreerag G pulled off a goal-line clearance from Monotosh Chakladar’s shot after goalkeeper Midhun V parried it away.
However, it was Kerala who broke the deadlock against the run of play. Jithin Gopalan intercepted a ball in the centre of the park and found Seesan S close by. He then showed some great vision to release Jithin MS on the run. Bengal’s left-back, Abhishek Mukherjee was off his position and with Sourav Dasgupta failing to track the winger, Jithin MS brought up his fifth goal of the tournament by slotting home through goalkeeper Ranajit Majumder’s gates.
All attempts of a comeback from Bengal were thwarted by the southern side. Monotosh Chakladar attempted a header from a set-piece in the 25th minute but went straight to Midhun. Skipper Jiten Murmu tried his luck after the half-hour mark from range but the ball went over the bar.
Afdal VK on the other hand tried to show some trickery in the opposing box but his final shot was poor and wide off target. Tirthankar Sarkar continued to deliver dangerous and powerful freekicks, all of which were defended well by a solid Kerala defence.
Injury time in the first half threw some excitement. First, Bidyashagar Singh ran in and forced a corner after Lijo S deflected his shot. The ensuing flag-kick was cleared and Rahul KP initiated a counter-attack. Anurag PC ran with the ball close to 50 yards and triggered Jithin MS on the right. Ranajit thankfully got a touch to his cross which resulted in Afdal VK losing his momentum and the striker took a hard fall in front of an empty net as his shot went over. Kerala led at half-time by a solitary goal to nil.
The first bit of real action after the change of ends came a minute past the hour mark. Afdal VK turned the other way and played a backheel for Jithin MS, whose low cross was squandered by Anurag PC in the box.
Bengal woke up from their slumber after that and put the foot on the gas. Ankit Mukherjee floated a long ball in the 66th minute and Jiten Murmu’s header went wide. A couple of minutes later, the home side drew level courtesy their captain Murmu. Monotosh Chakladar headed down a long ball and substitute Rajon Barman broke through to feed the striker who found the back of the net with a delectable left-footer, to level matters.
Jithin Gopalan missed a glaring chance in the 83rd minute with Sourav Dasgupta coming off with a clean tackle. Afdal missed another chance with two minutes to go with Ranajit off his line and both Bengal defenders combining to clear the ball with the goalkeeper absent. The scoreline was tied 1-1 at full-time.
Visibly tired, both teams slowed down in the thirty minutes.Kerala had the numerical advantage in the last eight minutes when Rajon Burman was sent off in the 112th minute. Sandip Bhattacharjee sprinted down to the end to play a through ball to Rajon. The striker’s second touch was poor and the ball went too ahead of him. Midhun came out to collect the ball only to have Rajon’s boot hit his face, for which referee Crystal John did not hesitate to produce the red card.
The second goal came in the 117th minute as Kerala took advantage of the extra man and Jestin George’s cross from the left was headed home by Vibin Thomas. However, Tirthankar Sarkar had other plans when he converted from a freekick from 25 yards in the sixth minute of injury time, taking the game to a shootout after both teams were tied at 2-2.
Ankit Mukherjee and Nabi Hussain Khan missed the first two penalties for Bengal as Midhun V saved both. Tirthankar Sarkar and Sanchayan Samadder’s conversion did not help as Kerala had a cent percent record with Rahul V Raj, Jithin Gopalan and Jestin George all scoring. For the final kick, Jiten Murmu took on the gloves but Seesan S shot past the striker to deliver Kerala the Hero Santosh Trophy.
Courtesy: AIFF Media