Kerala and West Bengal will clash in the finals of the men’s football competition in the 36th National Games. At the EKA Arena TransStadia (Ahmedabad, Gujarat ) here on Sunday evening, Kerala comfortably defeated their southern counterparts Karnataka 2-0 in the first semifinal while West Bengal beat Services by a solitary goal in the other semifinal played under floodlights.
Coached by former India striker Biswajit Bhattacharya, West Bengal scored the match-winner through Surajit Handsa in the 20th minute who finished off a lightning counter-attack along the left flank after the cross came in.
Led by experienced defender Suresh Meitei, who has I-League experience with Churchill Brothers and Roundglass Pubjab, Services missed a few chances with their livewire forward Shreyas VG also hitting the crossbar from a well-taken half-volley.
Luck was also not on Services’ side as West Bengal goalkeeper Raja Burman twice came to their rescue in the second half while on another occasion a defender headed away a rasping shot on the goalline. To cap their unlucky night, Services were also denied a goal after Liton Shil put the ball in but got flagged for offside.
In the first match, Kerala struck in the second minute through forward Muhammed Ashiq who played a nice through ball for right-wing back Jeritto J. and then ran on to receive the cross from the wing and bulge the net.
Karnataka dominated the proceedings in the first half with their confident ball possession and crisp short-passing. Wiry midfielder and captain Edwin Rosario was the heartbeat of all their attacking moves and tormented the Kerala defence with his nifty footwork.
On the other hand, Kerala were rather disjointed with their plays and often lost possession in promising positions. However, Karnataka survived two shouts for a penalty and once Nijo Gilbert tested Deepak with a direct free kick.
Karnataka had their best chance to draw level when striker Sudhir Kotikela crashed a fierce shot onto the post in the 25th minute from close range.
In the 42nd minute, goalkeeper Deepak prevented Kerala from doubling their lead when he saved a stiff grounder from Viknesh M. after the midfielder had run clear of the Karnataka defence.
Towards the fag end of the first half, injured goalscorer Ashiq was withdrawn and replaced by Muhammed Parokkottil.
The white and blue-attired winners started the second half on a bright note as the substitute added some pep to their attacks. They were duly rewarded for their dominance with their second goal when midfielder Ajeesh P. scored after Parokkottil had nicely set him up in the 54th minute.
Karnataka lost their rhythm in the second half and created just a half chance while Kerala were able to hold their fort rather comfortably to book their place in the final.