Kerala continued their dominance in the 72nd Santosh Trophy as the five-time champions eased past Maharashtra 3-0 in a Group A fixture played at the Sailen Manna Stadium in Howrah on Sunday to seal their place in the semifinals of the competition.
Kerala who were leading 2-0 at the interval scored through goals by Rahul Raj and Jithin MS in the 24thand 39th minute before Rahul KP completed the scoreline 58th minute.
The first half saw Kerala completely dominate proceedings with a number of attacks in the opening quarter. But strikers Afdal VK, Anurag PC and Jithin Gopalan were all denied by Maharashtra keeper Aditya Mishra.
Having missed a host of chances Kerala finally broke the deadlock in the 24th minute after their skipper Rahul Raj converted from the spot. The penalty was awarded to Kerala after Maharashtra defender Pramod Pandey brought down Afdal inside the box as the striker had a clear look in front of the goal.
The South Indian side further increased their pressure and attacked the Maharashtra goal ferociously, going close on a few occasions. It yielded another goal in the 39th minute when Jithin MS got on the scoresheet. Anurag on the left found Rahul KP on the right with a long ball who found Jithin clear inside the box. He curled in a perfect ball to give Kerala a two-goal cushion going into the breather.
At the start of the second half, Kerala coach Satheevan Balan brought winger Sreraag Gopal to replace defender, Justin George. The move paid off as he created Kerala’s third goal in the 58th minute. Sreraag dispossessed an opponent before sending Rahul KP through who managed to hold off a couple of challenges before netting from close. Meanwhile, Maharashtra, who were pressed back for most of the game, created a few chances to reduce the margin but the defence managed to hold on and ensured their second consecutive clean-shit.
Kerala will take on the hosts Bengal in their final league match on March 27 at the Mohun Bagan Ground while Maharashtra will face Manipur on the same day at Howrah.