November 15, 2001

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Kerala to meet Goa in final

S Ayyappa Swamy

Kerala and Goa will clash in the final of the 57th National football championship, for the Santosh Trophy, on Saturday.

In the semi-finals, at the Cooperage in Bombay on Thursday, Kerala staved off a late fightback from Tamil Nadu to prevail 5-3 while Goa got the better of Indian Railways 4-2 via the tie-breaker, after 90 minutes of regular play and 30 minutes extra-time ended goalless.

The first semi-final was a battle between the Malabaris and Madrasis. And the former won.

Kerala sparkled like Diwali crackers to slam-dunk Tamil Nadu and enter the final for the second successive year. Last year they lost to Maharashtra 0-1 on home turf, in Thrissur.

Kerala's Asif Saheer executes a reverse kick to score.Kerala were leading by a comfortable 5-1 margin till the 53rd minute, but then took an afternoon nap, which raised visions of a Tamil Nadu fightback. Tamil Nadu put in two goals through the irrepressible Syed Sabir Pasha, and it could have been 5-4 and a hat-trick for Pasha had N K Dileep not made a reverse-volley save in the 72nd minute. That goal, had it materialised, would have put more pressure on Kerala. Tamil Nadu will return to Madras ruing the missed chance.

Tamil Nadu struck first in the 10th minute through Mohd. Islam. That was the last they came close to seeing the Kerala goal, as the three-man strike force of Asif Saheer, S Ignatious and Abdul Hakim ran roughshod over them. Two goals came from Saheer, including a delightful low back-volley, in the 30th and 43rd minutes, and three from Hakim, in the 38th, 52nd and 53rd.

The two quick goals in the 30th and 38th minutes took the sting out of Tamil Nadu as Kerala simply toyed with their defence and led 3-1 at the break.

Tamil Nadu looked silly sitting in the sun while the Kerala players chose to cool themselves with iced handkerchiefs.

Goa Ratan Singh (yellow jersey) meets a cross before Railways 'keeper Sangram Mukherjee can reach the ball. It did wonders for the three-time champions as they pumped in two more goals soon after the changeover. Hakim's third goal almost looked like a gentle diagonal, which beat the onrushing Purushottaman with ease.

Kerala got slightly cocky and almost paid the price for it as Tamil Nadu rallied through the effervescent Pasha. He was brilliant with the through balls and ran rings round the Kerala defence which began to look extremely shaky.

Kerala have used all three goalkeepers and all -- Feroze Sherif, Jobby Joseph and Purshothaman -- have looked shaky. Vinu Jose limped off with a leg injury and that reduced the strength of Kerala.

Goa were deserving winners. They dominated the game and should have clinched the issue in regular time itself, but poor finishing was their undoing.

Clifford Miranda, Noel Wilson, Rocky Barreto and Jose Colaco scored for them in the penalty shoot-out while for Railways, only Kasif Jamal and Surjeet Tigga were successfull from the spot. S R Chaudhary and Asif Jamal were unsucessful, as their shots were saved by Goa goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey.

Railways even changed their goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee, bringing in Raghuvir Khanolkar after the Goa's second penalty kick, but to no avail.

The final is on Saturday, at 3 p.m.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Jewella C Miranda

Mail Sports Editor