Defending champions Bengal beat Karnataka 2-0 on Friday at the Sailen Manna Stadium in Howrah to set up a title clash against Kerala in the Santosh Trophy 2018. Skipper Jiten Murmu and Tirthankar Sarkar scored in the 57th and 90+2nd minutes respectively for the hosts.

Bengal started as the better side but Karnataka eventually took control of the game. In the 17th minute, Sukesh Leon of Karnataka hit the woodwork with a header that took Bengal’s goalkeeper Ranajit Majumder by surprise. The young shot-stopper then followed with two great saves to keep Bengal into the game.

Meanwhile, Bengal had a close chance of their own in the 36th minute through Sumit Das, who covered a lot of ground after getting the ball from midfield but the winger could not keep his effort on target from inside the box. Five minutes later, Bengal had another opportunity but Jiten’s header went wide.

Towards the end, Karnataka made two significant attempts through S Rajesh and Sukesh, but both efforts produced nothing as the first half ended goalless.

Changing over, both teams seemed keen to make an early impression, but it was Bengal who secured the all-important opening goal in the 57th minute though Jiten. Sumit’s fierce effort was palmed away by Karnataka keeper Shaikhan CP but Jiten was at the right place at right time to slot home from the rebound.

Despite the goal, or perhaps because of it, the match continued to be played on a high tempo. Free-kicks from wide areas for Bengal continued to be an outlet towards the goal as the hosts dominated two thirds of possession in the second half.

Having missed a few half chances, Bengal went extremely close in the 74th minute when Tirthankar played a through ball to Bidyashagar but the teenage striker could not reach to the ball.

Meanwhile, Karnataka also pushed hard for a late equaliser. Shamanth Dodda joined Rajesh in the forward line but Karnataka could find no way through an imperious defence and it was Bengal who looked more likely to score.

Thereafter, Bengal continued to dominate proceedings but had to wait till additional time to get their second. Jiten, with a brilliant run on the right, got past his marker but was brought down on the edge of the box when he was about to pull the trigger, which earned Bengal a free-kick. Tirthankar made no mistake to put the ball into the back of the net to confirm Bengal’s place in the final.

Kerala edge out Mizoram

The 32-time winners, defending champions and hosts will now face five-time champions Kerala in the final. Kerala made it to the final with a 1-0 win over Mizoram in the other semi-final match held at the Mohun Bagan Ground on Friday.

Substitute Afdal VK’s goal in the 54th minute upturned the Mizoram cart, who certainly were the better team on the day. Thereby, Kerala reached their first final since the 2012-’13 edition of the tournament.

Kerala reached their first final since the 2012-’13 edition of the tournament (Image: AIFF Media)
Kerala reached their first final since the 2012-’13 edition of the tournament (Image: AIFF Media)

Satheevan Balan made four changes from their 1-0 win over Bengal. Meanwhile, Mizoram, without coach Lalsangzuala Hmar, who was sent off to the stands in the last game and was serving a one-game suspension, altered their formation to play a 4-1-4-1.

Given the nature of the tie, both sides started off cautiously. However, Mizoram showed much more promise especially Lalbiakhlua, who managed to get the game going from the right flank.

Within ten minutes, Mizoram were winning all sorts of set-pieces but Lalnuntluanga’s free-kick ricocheted off the wall, while Hming Thanmawia’s effort went over the bar.

Lal Romawia could not add to his four goals in the tournament when he swivelled in from around 17 yards as Midhun V made an outstretched save, diving to his right after the quarter hour mark.

Mizoram had a golden opportunity in the 33rd minute to get the lead but Romawia missed from closed range. Lalrinpuia’s shot forced Midhun to fist the ball out but the North-Eastern side could not take advantage from the goalmouth melee.

Kerala’s only bright chance in the first half was Rahul KP’s miss from the edge of the box on the volley. Such incompetence in the first half prompted Balan to usher in striker Afdal VK for an ineffective Sajith Poulose just before the whistle.

That substitution paid immense dividends nine minutes after the change of ends. Collecting the ball from a diagonal pass, Jithin MS made a darting run from the right and cut in to dodge past two men. Rahul KP shot from his square pass but ‘keeper Laltanpuia Ralte parried it off. Afdal VK, unmarked took his chance from the rebound and slotted the ball home to give Kerala the lead against the run of play.

The setback caused some panic amongst the Mizoram ranks but they had no one to look for inspiration in the dugout with their coach absent from the touchline. Both strikers, Lal Rammawia and Malsawmzuala MC were brought on and the former champions came closest in the 81st minute.

With seven bodies inside the opposition half, Mizoram could not go past a solid Kerala defence as Vibin Thomas and Rahul V Raj proved to be almost impenetrable. Rammawia, Romawia and Biakhlua all tried their luck from continuous blocks and rebounds but luck wasn’t on their side.

Kerala held on to enter a Trophy final after four years, their fourteenth overall.