Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A joyless Santosh Trophy for Kerala

By John Cheeran
To many, Kerala’s exit from 62nd Santosh Trophy football championship in the quarterfinal league comes as a heart-rending moment. Former champions, and a team that has managed to be in the semifinal for the last 10 years, should have given you some hope till the final whistle.
I, however, was prepared for this betrayal of promise, especially after watching Kerala’s second quarterfinal league match against Services at the Bakashi Stadium in Srinagar. Only a day earlier, Kerala began on a promising note against hosts Jammu Kashmir scoring a 3-1 win. But against Services, coach Victor Manjila’s players came out clueless and lost 0-3 in a second half barrage.
I wondered, during the game against Services, how a side that plays so badly could nurse aspirations of winning the title. It was not that S Raleng’s splendid goal-poaching skills cut through Kerala defence and enabling the Services striker to score a hat-trick. Kerala just did not play football and did not deserve to win.
The story was repeated against defending champions on Monday. The first half was goalless and in the second half, Punjab pumped in five goals as if they were part of a firing squad led by the irrepressible KPS Gill at the height of Khalistan demand.
Kerala footballers did not put their key opposition – both Services and Punjab – under pressure. How do you put rivals under pressure? By looking to score goals and creating a winning position. You do that by making optimal use of the space, not by becoming part of the confusion in the penalty box, a task in which Kerala players totally failed. May be coach Victor Manjila and assistant coach Premnath Philip should take some responsibility for that.
Of course, Kerala Santosh Trophy players would reel out excuses such as weather and alien conditions in Srinagar, but as footballers, with ball at their feet, they should have felt at home anywhere in the world. Services looked the best organized team in the quarterfinal stage and they way they shocked champions Punjab in the first match hints that, there will be some roadblocks ahead of West Bengal and Karnataka, who upstaged Goa to reach semis, in their title quest.

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