The green at Cuttack’s Barabati Stadium will tempt one to walk barefoot. Add to it the cool breeze which had the flags fluttering all throughout, the Barabati stayed perhaps one of the best places to be in an evening summer. Under the lights, watching football stayed a great sight.
On the field, Services scored one in each half to beat Kerala 2-1 and advance to the final of the 66th Santosh Trophy. They await the winners between Manipur and Tamil Nadu in the final on May 28. For Services, Subrata Sarkar scored in the 5th minute and Marsook scored an own goal in the 50th minute. For Kerala, Vineet Anthony converted from the spot in the 83rd minute.
Services surged into the lead as early as the fifth minute. Kerala stopper Marsook failed to clear a Sanju Subba cross in the box and Subrata Sarkar was agile enough to capitalise – chipping it over Kerala custodian Joby Joseph.
Stung, Kerala tried to regroup. But they weren’t allowed the space in the midfield to manoeuvre as the nippy Services recovered faster than their rivals. Upfront Kerala striker R Kannan with his deft touches and positional sense did catch the rivals unaware a couple of times, but he didn’t get much support.
Maybe that prompted Kannan to go solo. In the 19th minute, his ambitious over-head kick sailed over and then in the 34th minute his long-ranger was fisted over by Services goalkeeper Nanao Singh.
For Services, Captain Gordon Zoramchhana who preferred to fall down and operate from the deep, played the pivotal role. He often fed Santu Subba, who broke through quite a few times down the right. The goal apart, Services’ best chance came in the 36th minute when Subrata failed to beat Joby from close after being set in the clear by a Horin through pass.
Five minutes later Kerala striker Usman missed an easier one. Off a corner, Kannan soared above all to head it to an unmarked Usman who blasted wide even as Nanao stayed out of position.
Changing over, Services doubled the lead almost immediately – in the 50th minute. A harmless PS Sumes cross was back-headed into his own net by Kerala defender Marsook.
But Kerala didn’t give up. In the 55th minute, Kannan broke down the right and his low centre needed a tap from Usman; but the latter failed. Kerala did attack relentlessly as Kannan wrecked havoc in the Services box for most part of the second half. But even he failed to reduce the margin when he blasted out from inside the box in the 70th minute.
Nanao’s reflexes further denied Kerala within a span of two minutes. First in the 75th minute, he denied Shibin Lal’s first-timer and then in the 77th minute, he palmed away Usman’s tap to frustrate Kerala.
However, Nanao stayed of pulling down Usman in the 83rd minute in the box – substitute Vineet Anthony converting from the spot.
Inspired, Kerala went all out. But Services survived some anxious moments and managed to hold on.
Prior to the kick-off, Chief Guest Mr. Sanjib Marik, IPS, Additional DG, Orissa Police was introduced to both the teams.
(AIFF Press Release)