The performance may not be very convincing but Kerala drubbed Puducherry 4-1 and achieved its goal of qualifying for the Santosh Trophy’s final phase after topping the South Zone Group ‘B’ qualifiers at the Nehru Stadium here on Sunday evening.
For a side, which was billed as one of the favourites for the Santosh Trophy, Kerala appeared shaky in the early stages and got its first goal through a controversial penalty. It scored three more through the lively midfielder Arjun Jayaraj and substitutes P.N. Noufal and Bujair Valiyattu but there were several mispasses and defensive failings that should worry the host as it gets ready for the National football championship’s main phase which is expected to be held in Kozhikode and Manjeri in early January.
There was even a period, around the 40th minute, when Puducherry almost threatened to level the score at 2-2 a minute after scoring its opening goal with Anson Anto receiving Maria Vivek’s long cross from the left smartly and running into the box to hit home.
Kerala topped the four-team group with nine points from three wins and bagged the lone qualification spot while Puducherry finished second with four points and Lakshadweep finished third after a 5-1 victory over Andaman and Nicobar.
Kerala 4 (Nijo Gilbert 21-pen., Arjun Jayaraj 24, P.N. Noufal 55, Bujair Valiyattu 57) bt Puducherry 1 (Anson C. Anto 39).
Lakshadweep 5 (K.P.P. Abdul Hashim 17, Abdul Hameen 37 & 45+1, Sahil 67, Abul Hassan 83) bt Andaman & Nicobar 1 (Y. Shiju Raj 90+5).