Punjab inch closer to semi-final spot after draw…

Super-sub Muhammed Parakkotil scored a brace as Kerala came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Punjab in the 71st Santosh Trophy match played at GMC Stadium Bambolim earlier today.

Punjab had won all their three North Zone qualifiers against Uttarakhand, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir scoring five goals and conceding none. They had also defeated Railways 2-1 in their first match of the tournament and drew 0-0 against Mizoram in their last match. While Kerala are also flying high as they are unbeaten in their last four matches. The southern state had started their campaign with a commanding 4-2 win over Railways.

Kerala coach VP Shaji made three changes to his side as defenders Nishon Xavier and Lijo S made way for Najesh M and Rahul Raj in the starting XI. The U21 Sahal Samad also made the cut replacing Jijo Joseph upfront. While, Punjab coach Kuldip Singh chose to go with the same team which earned him four points from their last two matches.

Both teams shared equal possession in the first session, while they were also equal in attacking percentage. Punjab were the first to get a look at the goal in the 5th minute when Rajbir Singh covered some ground before his shot missed the target narrowly from the edge of the box.

Kerala replied with two quick attacks but Punjab’s tight defence frustrated them every time. With Punjab’s unbreakable backline, Kerala’s Najesh chose to go for glory from distance but Punjab keeper Paramjit Singh kept the ball away with a diving effort. A few minutes later Samad tried his luck in the same style but this time it was not even close to the target.

At the other end, Punjab came close to scoring twice but first, Vijay Kumar failed to connect his header from point-blank range off Manvir Singh’s long throw-in. Later, Manvir saw his goal-bound shot nicely pushed away by the Kerala keeper Midhun V.

The best chance of the session came Kerala’s way when skipper Usman P easily cut past the advancing Punjab keeper in the box but failed to finishe the ball as his last shot was blocked by Panjab’s Harjinder Singh on the goal line.

After failing to create a good chance in the first 45 minutes, both the teams went into the breather with a clean sheet.

On crossing over, Punjab just took five minutes to open their tally when Amandeep Singh tried to find Vijay in the box after his darting run on the left flank but defender Sherin Sam’s interception landed in his own goal making it 1-0 for Punjab.

Punjab doubled their lead in the next five minutes through Vijay. The forward brilliantly beat Kerala’s offside trap and calmly finished the ball in the back of the nylons after receiving a through pass from Punjab skipper Harshdeep Singh.

Down by two goals, Kerala regrouped and made several attacks on the opponents but Punjab’s defence was too strong to break as they finished up shooting off target from outside the box.

When it was looking like the Northern state will take away all three points, Kerala’s substitute Parakkottil scored and reduced the margin a minute before the end of regular time and gave hopes for the South Indian state. Boosted by the late goal, Kerala kept their attacks going and found the equaliser in the fourth minute of added time. Parakkottil was the hero again when he made a tap to another substitute Lijo’s long thrown in.

Kerala’s assistant coach Firoz Sarif said, “Our plan of the long ball game was going against us so we changed it in the second half. Boys knew what they wanted to do after conceding two and they did it perfectly. I must congratulate them for this excellent performance.” 

In the other match played at Tilak Maidan, Maharashtra went down by a goal to Railways. Rahul Dais’ own goal in the first half cost the western state the match.

Following a second defeat, Maharashtra are almost out of the competition, while Punjab top Group B with five points from three matches. Kerala and Mizoram stand second and third respectively with four points each.