Santosh Trophy: Kerala marches into finals after beating Karnataka 7-3

Manjeri: Jesin TK scored five as Kerala marched into the final of the Santosh Trophy tournament after beating Karnataka 7-3 in the first semi-final at Payyanad Stadium on Thursday. Karnataka scored the opening goal, only for Kerala to bounce back later to come out victorious. Jesin(35,42,44,56,75), who came on as a super-sub, completed his hat-trick in the first half before scoring twice in the second half. Shighil(45) also scored for Kerala in the dying minutes of the first half. Meantime, Sudheer Kotikela(25), Kamalesh(54), and Solaimalai(71) found the back of the net for Karnataka.

Kerala started the game with their usual aggressive attacking football by keeping a high line and trying to open up play through the wings. Jijo Joseph posed a threat for Karnataka with his through balls finding Vignesh on the left flank. Karnataka also pushed Kerala into defence through quick balls through the middle. However, they only managed to keep Kerala at bay through offside traps and low blocks.

Kerala pushed ahead and registered the first shot of the game after an effort from Shighil, who finds himself inside the box with space to work his magic, only to be saved by goalkeeper Kevin Koshy. Shighil continued to be a threat and went almost ahead in the 21st minute. Meantime, Sanju's shot only hit the side netting in the corner that followed.

Kerala dominated the game in the first half. However, it was Karnataka who opened up scoring in the 25th minute. A quick counterattack through the left-wing, and Sudheer Kotikela finds the back of the net. A low cross by Solaimalai from the left and an easy tap-in for Karnataka skipper.

However, a substitution from Kerala to bring in Jesin TK quickly paid off after he equalised for Kerala in the 35th minute. Jesin struck his second of the game in the 41st minute to give a 2-1 lead for Kerala. He pokes the ball into the goal from a brilliant counterattack before beating the defender inside the box. Jesin completed his hattrick after Gilbert's shot from the left deflected off the goalkeeper and fell perfectly for him to tap it in the 44th minute. Shigil made it 4-1 after a low cross from the right, pushed out by the keeper, and fell kindly for Shighil to finish off.

The second half opened up with Karnataka pushing to find a breakthrough in the game. Their efforts came fruitful after the Kerala goalkeeper misread a 35-yard shot from Kamalesh to make it 4-2. However, their hope was short-lived as Kerala struck the fifth goal of the game through Jesin. The fourth goal of the game for the young Keralite.

Karnataka struggled to hold on to the ball as Kerala as the game went on. Kerala went 6-2 after a shot from Arjun Jayaraj was ended up as an own goal. Despite Kerala dominating the game, Karnataka puts up efforts to suprise Kerala to make it 6-3 in the 71st minute. Solaimalai's screamer from the outside the box in the 71st minute. However, Jesin scored his fifth in the 74th minute, thanks to a through ball from Noufal, and Jeslin calmly slots it away to make it 7-3.

Kerala progressed to the semi-final round of the tournament after finishing as Group A table-toppers. They collected 10 points from four games and are the only unbeaten side in the tournament.

The 2017-18 champions kicked off the tournament with a thumping 5-0 win over Rajasthan. In their next game, they passed the West Bengal test with flying colours before playing out a 2-2 draw with Meghalaya. They edged past Punjab 2-1 in their most recent game to finish the group round as table toppers.

Karnataka, meanwhile, finished second in Group B with seven points in their kitty. They won two games in the previous round against Gujarat and Services with their only defeat coming at the hands of Manipur. They were held for a 3-3 draw by Odisha in their first game.
Kerala last won Santosh Trophy after beating West Bengal in the finals in a penalty shootout (4–2).

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