The Ambedkar stadium came alive with cheering Kerala fans, as the last edition's runners-up beat Railways 4-1 in the quarter-final league stage of the Santosh Trophy football championships in Delhi on Thursday.
Also scoring a convincing victory were defending champions Manipur, who registered a 3-1 victory over Karnataka.
Manipur and Kerala, seeded directly into the quarter-final stage courtesy their 1-2 finish in the last edition of the tournament in 2002, were clearly the superior teams in the Group B and C encounters, as they overcame some gritty opposition from their rivals in the second half.
Meanwhile, Delhi became the last team to qualify for the quarter-finals after Assam thrashed MP 8-1 in Cluster II.
Taking the turf as favourites with a star line-up full of India players, Manipur made their intentions clear, making early inroads. The first goal came in the 16th minute when man of the match James Singh's cross found Dharamjit Singh, who scored with a fine header.
Karnataka looked overawed by the might of their opponents but slowly came into their own as the match progressed. Still Manipur's fast counters always posed a threat and they doubled the lead four minutes before half-time when Tomba Singh beat Karnataka 'keeper M Subash Kumar with a neat lob latching on to a cross from Surkumar Singh.
The second half saw Karnataka slowly taking control of the midfield and making repeated forays in search of a goal and it finally arrived in the 77th minute.
The move began from the middle through S K Dayanand, who relayed the ball to his skipper Xavier Vijay Kumar. It was the perfect chance for Vijay Kumar to make amends after a big miss earlier in the session and this time he beat Manipur custodian Noren Singh with a placing shot to reduce the margin 1-2.
Karnataka looked poised for the equaliser but a costly blunder by their 'keeper in the 87th minute saw substitute Tiken Singh scoring the insurance goal for Manipur.
The second match saw Kerala leading 2-0 at half time before Railways came back in the second half. Kerala then delivered two knock-out blows to earn three important points and grab the early initiative in the fight for a semi-final berth.
Skipper S Ignatius opened Kerala's account in the 10th minute with a fine solo before Noushad, who won Rs 5,000 for winning the man of the match award, scored in the 32nd and 73rd minutes.
The fourth goal, which brought hundreds of Kerala supporters on their feet, came from substitute T Usman in the 85th minute.
For Railways, who really impressed in the second half, Kasif Jamal scored the consolation goal in the 54th minute.