Two traditional footballing powerhouses coming from the backyard of passionate football traditions and ardent fan following, far from the glitterati of Indian Super League and popular I-League, Kerala and Bengal is due to meet on the final encounter of unpretentious Santosh Trophy on Sunday.
The group stages of the competition witnessed poor crowd turnouts as matches were scheduled in the sultry afternoons with 3 PM kickoffs due to the apathy of the Federation, resulting in gruelling physical strain on players and matches played in near-empty stadiums.
Much to the credit of the players who had to fight the arduous schedule of playing matches every alternate day in the scorching March summer to display some eye-catching football will be hoping for one final stellar show as curtains draw to close on the final encounter of Santosh Trophy between Bengal and Kerala.
Bengal upstaged Karnataka 2-0 in the semi-final with goals from Jiten Murmu in the 57th minute and Tirthankar Sarkar deep into the injury time to storm their way into the final.
After an even first half, Bengal settled into the game holding majority of the ball possession constructing attacks using both the flanks in the second half.
Sumit Das’s brilliant run down the left flank took out two defenders as he played the ball into the six yards box for captain Jiten Murmu to slot it in the net to give Bengal the much-needed lead.
Karnataka threw everything forward but the Bengal back-four held their fort and had an incredible game to deny Karnataka any chance to equalize.
Deep into the game, Tirthankar Sarkar curled a wonderful freekick to put the game to bed ensuring Bengal’s place in the final.
In the other semi-final, Kerala managed to overcome Mizoram with a narrow 1-0 win to seal a place in the Sunday final.
A 54th-minute strike from substitute Afdal VK who slotted an opportunistic goal inside the box netting in a deflected loose ball from Rahul KP’s shot inside six-yard box to give Kerala the much-needed goal in the game that looked pretty much locked as both teams had limited chances.
Bengal has been the dominant side in the tournament history winning the title 32 times while Kerala has been the champions on five occasions.
The Sunday showdown in the Final is expected to be a feisty affair as two strong teams lock horns in the final for the crown.
It will be a battle of wits, the battle of two distinct footballing styles and a humdinger of an encounter for footballing fans between the two deserving sides.
The football fans could only hope, that Federations and officials do justice to the final of this historic competition to organize the Final under lights during the soothing evening conditions in Salt Lake stadium to offer a spectacle for the fans to throng the stadium and fill the galleries, something which Indian football needs beyond the glamour of ISL to witness the best of domestic talents showcasing their talent in a competition like the historic Santosh Trophy.