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Santosh Trophy

West Bengal defeat Meghalaya, Kerala outclass Punjab in Santosh Trophy

Published at :April 23, 2022 at 10:12 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : AIFF Media)

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West Bengal edge past Meghalaya in Group A fixture.

In a thrilling encounter,West Bengal got the better of Meghalaya 4-3 in a Group A match of the 75th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy 2022 at the Kottapadi Stadium in Malappuram here on Friday. A brace from Md Fardin Ali Molla and Mahitosh Roy ensured Bengal returned to winning ways.

Prior to the game, Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacherjee mentioned how crucial this encounter will be for the 32-time champions considering the tight nature of the group. He also spoke of how the three-day gap rejuvenated his team.

West Bengal completely dominated the first half. They hogged the majority of the ball possession, and used their flanks to great effect. Md Fardin Ali Molla and Dilip Orawn were live-wires throughout the opening period. A fair few long range attempts were tried by the Bengal players before the first goal of the game arrived in the 23rd minute.

Dilip Orawn made a brilliant solo run down the left channel before a fine cross which took out two Meghalaya defenders. From a difficult angle and with the ball bouncing, the Meghalaya defenders must have been expecting Md Fardin Ali Molla to control the ball. But instead the 20-year-old took his shot first-time and the ball rifled into the net with the goalkeeper a mere spectator.

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The goal meant Meghalaya stepped up their attacking forays while the Bengal players went back into their shape and tried to catch the opposition out during the transition moments. One such counter attacking move resulted in Shubham Bhowmick isolating his marker as he used his physical prowess to hold him off before unleashing a shot which went well over.

Meghalaya had no real attempts till the 40th minute and it seemed like Bengal were in cruise control. But things quickly changed in the 40th minute when Subhankar Adhikari made a hash of an easy clearance from an innocuous through ball attempt. Sangti Janai Shianglong punished the mistake and Meghalaya restored parity completely against the run of play.

Credit to the Bengal players as they refused to let their heads drop and restored their one-goal advantage within two minutes. Dilip Orawn showed quick feet to evade his marker and crossed inside the box. Md Fardin Ali Molla was tripped and referee Senthil Nathan S had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The attacker sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to help his side go 2-1 up right on the stroke of half-time.

The second half was even more entertaining. Meghalaya coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet had told prior to the game how his team was pumped up for the occasion and how they wanted to cause a major upset. And as soon as play resumed, Meghalaya restored parity once again. Another defensive mishap meant Sangti Janai Shianglong was clean through on goal and he made no mistake as he slotted the ball home past a diving Priyant Kumar Singh.

Mahitosh Roy had been finding space just outside the box time and again but each time, he had failed to trouble the keeper. But he more than made up for his numerous misses in the 49th minute. The Meghalaya defenders made a hash of a long ball punted forward from the back and Mahitosh unleashed a fierce overhead kick with the goalkeeper rooted to his position to make it 3-2 in Bengal's favour.

Once again, the Bengal lead did not last long and Meghalaya took advantage of another defensive howler, this time from skipper Monotosh Chakladar. Kynsaibor Lhuid found himself free on the right and his cross was turned in by substitute Shano Tariang. A hat-trick of errors led to easy goals for the team from the North-East.

Meghalaya players sensed that Bengal players were there for the taking and kept upping the ante with a snapshot from Figo Syndai forcing a save out of Priyant Kumar Singh. But as they pressed more and more forward, they gave away too much space for the counter. And in the 69th minute, one such move paid dividends for Bengal. A long ball found Dilip Orawn in space down the right. His pin point cross was met first time by Mahitosh Roy and he swept the ball home to make it 4-3 for Bengal.

Despite Bengal's brilliant attacking display, their defenders time and again looked nervy and a handball from a corner meant Meghalaya once again had the chance to draw level in the 86th minute. Meghalaya skipper Hardy Cliff Nongbri stepped up but Priyant made an incredible double save, including from the rebound attempt and Bengal somehow clung on to claim all three points from a thoroughly engrossing contest.

The win meant Bengal now have six points from three games and remain in the hunt to make the last four. They will next face Rajasthan on Sunday. Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacherjee will be keen to ensure his players do not get complacent while also ensuring the defensive unit improves. For Meghalaya, despite a valiant effort, they find themselves with four points from as many games with Punjab up next.

Captain Jijo Joseph shines as Kerala beat Punjab.

A late goal from talismanic Kerala captain Jijo Joseph proved the difference as Kerala edged out Punjab 2-1 in a thriller at the 75th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium in Malappuram here on Friday. Jijo discord the equaliser in the first half, before firing home the winner to take his team through to the knockouts. 

The game was built on the old stereotypes of Kerala's skill going up against Punjab's physicality, and the crowd, thronging in numbers, added up some extra spice. If the packed stadium was supposed to add pressure, Punjab hadn't been told. In the eleventh minute the press almost brought them the opener. Indervir Singh robbed Arjun Jayaraj off the ball 25 yards from the Kerala goal, and shot quick and hard. The ball drifted wide.

A minute later, Kerala were punished for making the same mistake. Off an innocuous Punjab throw in, the ball was played long into Kerala's box. G Sanju missed a routine clearance to hand the ball over to a charging Manvir Singh. Manvir drove into the box, opened his body up and curled a shot towards the bottom corner. Despite V Midhun's acrobatic diving save, the ball looped into the net, shocking the stadium into silence. Punjab had the lead. 

Shighil became the architect, first teeing the ball up for Salman Kalliyath to shoot at goal from inside the box. Kalliyath went for the near post, and despite being wrongfooted, Harpreet Singh pulled off a super save to put the ball out of play. The move would spark a set of corners for Kerala, each of which the home team decided to experiment with, playing short, flat to the top of the box and deep to the far post.

Off the fourth, Shighil and Arjun Jayaraj played a delicate one-two before the latter whipped a perfect cross right on the penalty spot. Jijo Joseph rose first, and rose highest, nodding the ball home. Kerala were level. 

The game soon turned into an end to end affair. In the 22nd minute, coach Hardeep Singh brought on their goalscoring threat Jashandeep Singh from the bench and almost immediately, Punjab had hit the net again. Captain Parmjit Singh's curled freekick was met by a diving Manvir, who headed it perfectly into the far bottom corner. Before the celebrations could commence, the referee had blown for offside.

Kerala had chances of their own. Muhammad Rashid's low cross was parried by Harpreet Singh towards Jijo Joseph right near the penalty spot. The ball unfortunately was slightly behind the midfielder, who nonetheless tried an acrobatic attempt at goal. It drifted inches wide. 

Just around the half hour mark, Midhun went down injured and Kerala were forced into subbing their second goalkeeper S Hajmal on. Midhun had been integral to Kerala's success at the back but despite his loss, Kerala did not lose momentum. In first half injury time, came another 'almost' moment, An Arjun Jayaraj freekick from 40 yards from the left flank, somehow found its way through a throng of defenders to hit the upright. The ball had been played long, and deep, and snuck through a sea of bodies. The two teams went into halftime level.

Kerala came out in the second half keen to take complete control of proceedings, dominant on the ball and their midfielders not worried by the high press. Punjab had sought to cut them from the centre — where they were strongest — and Bino George responded by asking them to target the wings with abandon. To ease this, PN Noufal was brought on and the midfielder was a constant threat, his crosses constantly landing in dangerous areas, forcing Punjab to clear hurriedly. 

One after another the crosses rained, from both sides of the pitch and one after the other, Baljit Singh and Rajat Kumar were forced to clear. The crowd were getting impatient, asking more from their elegant side, and produced their biggest cheer when Bino George withdrew Viknesh to bring on TK Jesin.

Even here, he harried Punjab deeper and deeper into their box, constantly driving with the ball and dropping markers by the wayside. His best moment though, and the moment that sealed the game, came when he let the ball be. 

In the 86th minute, with the scores level and the Manjeri Payyanad screaming for a goal, Sanju G dropped a curling cross into the box, from distance. Charging to the ball, Jesin took one defender with him, before feinting and letting the ball pass by. Thrown off centre, Punjab were suddenly exposed, Jijo, alone, near the penalty spot, taking the cross down with his chest, before firing hard and true, into the net.

It was another late Kerala masterclass, and another goal from their talisman. They had secured another win, and three more points, the only blemish, a late injury to Arjun Jayaraj. The semis await. 

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