Santosh Trophy: Services, Goa, Kerala, Assam Seal Quarterfinal Berths From Group A (Ld)


(MENAFN- IANS) Itanagar, Feb 28 (IANS) Services, Goa, Kerala, and Assam sealed their spots in the 2023-24 Santosh Trophy quarterfinals, after their respective Group A matches, at the Golden Jubilee Stadium, here on Wednesday.

Hosts Arunachal and last season's finalists Meghalaya went into matchday 4 needing three points each to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive. While Arunachal lost 0-2 at the hands of Kerala, Meghalaya could only secure a goalless draw against Goa. On the other hand, Services, with a 2-0 victory against Assam, moved to the top of Group A.

Kerala end Arunachal's quarterfinal hopes

Kerala ended Arunachal Pradesh's hopes of making it to the knockout stage of Santosh Trophy 2023-24, handing them a 2-0 defeat at the Golden Jubilee Stadium on Wednesday. Forward Muhammed Ashiq S and substitute Arjun V netted one in each half to win the match for Kerala.

The 2021-22 Santosh Trophy champions thus now have seven points from four matches, and are third in the group. Arunachal, on the other hand, have just one point from their four matches, with their hopes of making it into the top four positions in Group A going up in flames.

Needing nothing short of a win to keep their chances alive, Arunachal Pradesh began the game with great gusto. Olik Tayeng, on the counter, played a defence-splitting pass to Rahul Singpho, who went through on goal. However, much to the disappointment of the local fans in the stands, the shot went agonisingly wide.

Kerala, after recovering from the initial onslaught, recovered well in the match and looked to penetrate the Arunachal goal on multiple occasions. Naresh B had a very good chance on the counter in the 25th when he broke free on the counter and after cutting inside from the right, had just the Arunachal goalkeeper to beat, but poked his effort wide.

Jithin G produced a volley from outside the box that was destined for the bottom corner, but it was saved by Arunachal custodian Jagom Loyi, who showed good awareness to palm away the ensuing shot off the rebound from Muhammed Ashiq.

Ashiq, however, redeemed himself minutes later, when he jumped high inside the Arunachal box to nod in a cross by Mohamed Safneed in the 35th minute.

Arjun V doubled Kerala's lead in the 52nd when he ran on to a clearance off a long throw and put it into the net from just inside the Arunachal box.

The hosts came back strongly, looking to reduce the deficit, keeping long bouts of possession as the game wore on. However, they lacked effective penetration in the final third. They ended the game with higher possession, but that did not paint the whole picture. Kerala were well in control of their faculties by the time Arunachal gained proper control of the match, and never looked like they would let one in.

Their last match against Services on March 1 could potentially decide who will make it to the quarterfinals.

Services down Assam

Services took a giant leap to the top of Group A, defeating Assam 2-0 in their Group A match at the Golden Jubilee Stadium on Wednesday. Thingnam Bidhyasagar Singh (44') and P Christopher Kamei (50') scored on either side of the half-time break to hand them a comfortable win.

Kamei's goal, in particular, was a rather unusual one, as it came off an indirect free-kick inside the penalty box after Assam goalkeeper Birkhang Daimary was adjudged to have handled the ball from a back-pass. With the entire Assam team standing on the goal line, Kamei smashed the ball over the array of heads to bulge the top netting of the goal.

This result means that Services now stand on nine points from four games, while Assam remain fourth in the group, with six points from as many matches.

Stalemate against Goa seals Meghalaya's fate

Last season's runner-ups, Meghalaya also went into their fourth Group A game against Goa in Santosh Trophy 2023-24 needing a win to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive. However, a goalless draw at the Golden Jubilee Stadium meant that Meghalaya stand at fifth in the group with two points from four matches, and no way of making it to the knockout rounds.

Goa, for their part, had opportunities aplenty to take the three points and the lead in the Group A points table, but were wasteful in front of goal. Mahammed Faheez had perhaps the best opportunity of the match, when he sped past his markers on the left flank and entered the box. His effort from a narrow angle hit the bar; on the follow through, he did manage to get a shot away, albeit from an even a narrower angle and sent the ball crashing into the side netting.

Towards the end of the match, Meghalaya's Wanboklang Lyngkhoi mad a heroic block on the goalline off a shot by Goa substitute Joshua D'Silva, to keep his side's hopes alive till the final whistle. Meghalaya came hard at Goa in the closing exchanges, but the side from the West Coast managed to hold on to the 0-0 draw, and confirmed their qualification to the quarterfinals.

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