Maharashtra put paid to Kerala's aspirations of successfully defending their title by notching a solitary goal victory in the first semi-final of the Santosh Trophy, National Football Championship, at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi on Friday night.
Striker Reuben D'Souza was the star for Maharashtra, scoring the all-important goal in the 51st minute.
The defending champions dominated the proceedings but failed to capitalise on the innumerable chances that came their way, much to the dismay of their fans.
With time running out, Kerala coach Peethambaran brought in the experienced I M Vijayan in place of medio Abdul Noushad, who had missed several chances. But even the veteran striker was not of much help as Maharashtra defenders Clifford Kilmo and Rauf Khan effectively thwarted every Kerala attack, mainly led by marksmen Asif Saheer and Abdul Hakkim.
Earlier, the home team, spurred on by a vociferous crowd, went on the offensive right from the word go to put their fancied opponents on the backfoot.
Kerala made a flurry of attacks down the left wing. Ajayan fed strikers Mohammed Rafi and Abdul Hakkim with accurate diagonals and also fell back to help the stoppers.
The home team's strikers virtually toyed with the Maharashtra defence as they repeatedly broke through the cordon but squandered all chances.