Hosts Kerala bounced back from a goal down to beat heavyweights Bengal 5-4 in the penalty shootout and win their seventh Santosh Trophy title at the Manjeri Payyanad Football Stadium in Malappuram on Monday. Playing in front of a packed home crowd with an official attendance of 26,857, Bino George Chiramal-coached Kerala failed to break through Bengal’s defence, brilliantly spearheaded by experienced goalkeeper Priyant Kumar Singh in the regulation time. The record 32-time champions, aiming to avenge their final defeat at home in 2016-17, went ahead in the extra-time through a sensational diving header by Dilip Orawn (97th), brilliantly set up by Supriya Pandit from the left. But Bengal defence spearheaded by skipper Monotosh Chakladar crumbled in the last four minutes of extra-time in what was an action replay of Bengal’s goal.
Just when the crowd turned hostile and started throwing bottles from the stands, it was Bibin Ajayan who scored the equaliser with a leaping header after being set up by Noufal PN from the right flank to force a penalty shootout.
Bengal kicked off the penalty shootout with Dilip Orawn’s strike but in their second attempt Sajal Bag shot wide which turned decisive in the end.
Bablu Ora, Tanmoy Ghosh and goalkeeper Priyant converted their chances and in the final attempt they left the big task for substitute goalkeeper Raja Burman to deny Kerala the winning penalty.
Burman tried his best but Faslurahman Methukayil sealed it, shooting the ball into the top corner to clinch their first Santosh Trophy on home soil since 1993 (Kochi).
Having beaten Bengal 2-0 in the group stage, Kerala, thus, did a double on the Ranjan Bhattacharya-coached side.
It was a contrasting tale of two halves with Bengal dominating the first 45 minutes, while Kerala came close on multiple occasions after the changeover.
It was courtesy a valiant display under the bar by their keeper Priyant Kumar Singh that Bengal kept their hopes alive of bringing the Trophy back home.
The best save by Priyant came in the 33rd minute when he parried away a superb strike by Viknesh M to hold on to the clean slate.
Two minutes later, Priyant was again in the thick of the action, this time denying Sanju G.
Bengal’s top forward Molla had a forgettable outing and squandered a couple of chances in the first-half.
The hosts pressed hard in the second-half with tournament top-scorer Jijo Joseph and Vikensh making a wave of attacks but Bengal defence denied all their efforts as the goalless stalemate prevailed in regulation time.
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