The 67th edition of the Santosh Trophy will be remembered for a long time by the people of the Kerala. The return of the most prestigious trophy to the state was keenly followed by the population of God’s own state. Even though the Santosh Trophy has lost its charm but it still remains in the hearts of many in the state of Kerala.
The rule of AIFF which prohibit a state organization to select the I-League club players hampered the chances of states like Goa and Bengal. The favourite of the tournament was the host Kerala along with the Maharashtra, which was bolstered by experienced players such as N.P. Pradeep and Mohammad Rafi.
The format of this year Santosh Trophy was changed to add some excitement in the tournament. All four Semifinalist frtom last edition, Kerala, Manipur, Services and Tamil Nadu were given direct entry into proper group stage. Rest of the teams had to go through the qualifying groups.
In Qualifier Round 1 three teams were grouped together. There were four groups in the total and top 2 from each group went to the proper group stage and bottom had one more shot at qualifying in Qualifiers Round 2.
In the quarterfinals group A Services were clubbed with the Railways and Odisha who qualified from qualifying round 1 whereas Madhya Pradesh qualified from qualifiers round. In group B Tamil Nadu were grouped with Round 1 qualifiers Goa and Maharashtra and Round 2 qualifiers Jharkhand. In group C host Kerala was grouped with Round 1 qualifiers Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and Round 2 qualifiers Jammu & Kashmir. The group D was group of death where Manipur faced Round 1 qualifiers Punjab and West Bengal and Round 2 qualifier Karnataka.
Quarter finals Groups
In Group A of quarterfinals defending champions Services qualified to the semis. The armed forces were locked with Railways with 7 points but better goal difference helped them to qualify for the semis. In the group fixture Services scoreg 6 past Madhya Pradesh which remains highest winning margin by any team in this year’s edition.
Maharashtra was favourites to win the group B and they did not disappoint their fans. The state which had one of the best team on paper was impressive. The likes of Mohammad Rafi, NP Pradeep showed their class and helped the team to win all their matches in the group.
Hosts Kerala had pressure to perform in front of their supporters. They started with an easy win over Jammu & Kashmir. Then they had struggled in their next two matches where they were able to win against Uttar Pradesh with mere 1 goal difference and were forced to satisfy with a draw against Haryana. With 7 points in their kitty they booked their place in the semis.
Group D which was also considered as a group of death did not live up to its expectation. With powerhouses such as West Bengal, Punjab, Karnataka and Manipur in the group it was predicted to be a close affair. A dominant display by the Punjab ensured that they become clear winner of this group winning all three matches of the group.
Extra Time Goal dashed Maharashtra hopes.
In the first semifinal of Santosh Trophy Maharashtra faced Kerala. Maharashtra had been an impressive team going into the semifinals and were favourites to win the match.With fans egging them on, Kerala started the match with a lot of heart and absorbed early pressure while depending more on counter attacks.
After a barren first half both teams became more aggressive. Kerala soon got the first opportunity to score the goal through Penalty when Maharashtra player handled the ball in the box. Kerala striker Usman calmly converted the spot kick to give a lead to his team. One goal down, Maharashtra pressed hard for an equalizer while Kerala kept on searching for their second goal. Maharashtra was falling behind but a perfect strike from F. Lalrempuia put the team leveled with the host.
The match went in the extra time where tired legs of both the teams continued to search a match-winner. Just when everyone was expecting the match to go to penalties Kerala come up with a lovely piece of teamwork. Shabin Lal found the perfect pass from Ahmad Malik. Lal did not disappoint his team mates scoring the all-important winning goal.
Services knockout punch to powerful Punjab.
Punjab started the match against Services with a lot of intent. They were aggressive right from the start. The Punjabis found the back of the net in the 20th minute when Taranjit Singh’s pass was headed by Rohit into the net. They kept on pressing hard and could have doubled the score line in next few minutes. Punjab played smartly and denied space for Services to create any offensive move.
The second half started just like first half where Punjab played attacking brand of football and didn’t allow any breathing space for the Services. Punjab was comfortably cruising towards the victory but Taranjit Singh was shown a red card by referee for playacting. This was the turning point as Services started to play more aggressively. The 2012 Santosh Trophy winners took advantage of numerical superiority and started to pass more fluently. They got an all-important equalizer in the 86th minute through Lalam Mawia.
The match went to extra time where services were more comfortable with the numerical advantage they had. The Services did not waste this advantage and scored two goals. Dhanji Singh and Lalam Mawia scored to book their place in the final.
Finals- Heart Break of the Kerala Fans.
The Kerala Santosh Trophy team was in the final in front of the mammoth 45,000 supporters to support them. The match started with both the teams playing attacking football though with lax defending. Services were looking more focused and looking hungry to defend their title as they put the home team under pressure. Kerala were not playing the free flowing football which they displayed throughout the tournament.
Even though Services were more threatening; the match did not produce any goals at the regular time. It took penalties to decide the winners of the 67th Santosh trophy. Services converted 4 spot kicks; while a shot were saved by the Kerala goal keeper. Kerala players wilted under pressure of the crowd managed to convert only three spot kicks. Lalam Mawia was declared man of the match who also become highest goal scorer of the tournament. Services were better side on the day and deserving winners of Santosh Trophy 2013.