Kerala held their nerves to beat Bengal via penalty shootout as they clinched their sixth national football championships for the Santosh Trophy at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday.
Locked 2-2 after extra time, Kerala goalkeeper Mithun V put up a stellar show in the tie-breaker to help his side win 4-2. Ankit Mukherjee and Nabi Hussain Khan missed the first two penalty kicks for Bengal as Midhun V thwarted both their attempts.
Tirthankar Sarkar and Sanchayan Samadder's conversion did not help as Kerala scored through Rahul V Raj, Jithin Gopalan and Jestin George. For the final kick, Jiten Murmu took on the gloves but Seesan S shot past him to deliver Kerala their first Santosh Trophy since 2004-05.
Kerala had beaten Punjab 3-2 with an extra time goal to win their earlier Santosh Trophy title in New Delhi in October 2004. Earlier Jithin MS gave Kerala a 19th minute lead before Bengal captain Jiten Murmu restored parity in the 68th minute.
After the regulation time stalemate, Kerala once again went ahead in the extra time when Vibin Thomas found the net with his 117th minute header. Kerala had the numerical advantage in the last eight minutes when Rajon Burman was sent off in the 112th minute.
But despite the odds, Tirthankar Sarkar scored late from a curling free kick in the 120+6th minute to take the game into the tie-breaker. However, it was a heartbreak for Bengal as they failed to defend their crown as the Satheevan Balan coached-side kept a clean record to clinch their sixth title.
The hosts were on the attack straightaway as Sarkar had two free-kick chances from the left side of the area within the first six minutes. While the first one was duly cleared by the Kerala wall, left-back Sreerag G pulled off a goal-line clearance from a Monotosh Chakladar's shot after goalkeeper Midhun V parried it away.
It was Kerala who broke the deadlock against the run of play when Jithin Gopalan intercepted a ball in the centre of the park and found Seesan S close by. He then showed some great vision to release Jithin MS on the run.
Bengal's left-back Abhishek Mukherjee was off his position and with Sourav Dasgupta failing to track the winger, Jithin MS brought up his fifth goal of the tournament by slotting home through goalkeeper Ranajit Majumder's gates.
All attempts by Bengal forwards were thwarted by the southern side. Monotosh Chakladar attempted a header from a set-piece in the 25th minute but it was straight to Midhun.
Skipper Murmu tried his luck after the half-hour mark from long range but the ball went over the bar. Bengal finally put their foot on the gas and scored when Chakladar headed down a long ball and substitute Rajon Barman broke through to feed the striker who found the back of the net with a delectable left-footer.Visibly tired, both teams slowed down in the last 30 minutes.
In the 117th minute, Kerala took advantage of the extra man and Jestin George's cross from the left was headed home by Thomas. However, Sarkar had other plans when he converted from a free-kick from 25 yards in the sixth minute of injury time, taking the game to a shootout.