Kerala would look to move a step closer to winning their seventh Santosh Trophy title when they square off against four-time champions Karnataka in the first semi-final here on Thursday.
In the second semi-final on Friday, the most successful team in the history of the Santosh Trophy, West Bengal will face Manipur at the same venue.
Kerala progressed to the semi-final round of the tournament after finishing as Group A toppers. They collected 10 points from four games and are the only unbeaten side in the tournament.
The 2017-18 champions kicked off the tournament with a thumping 5-0 win over Rajasthan. In their next game, they passed the West Bengal test with flying colours before playing out a 2-2 draw with Meghalaya. They edged past Punjab 2-1 in their most recent game to finish the group round as table toppers.
Kerala captain Jijo Joseph is the tournament’s highest scorer so far, and when asked about it, he said, “Scoring isn’t essential to me, I just want to win every game, and that is what I am concentrating on right now.”The most important thing for me is to win this game and get to the final.”
“Karnataka is a good side,” Kerala coach Bino George Chiramal Padinjarathala remarked when asked about their opponent.
“They were outstanding against Gujarat in their most recent match and are in excellent form.”
“All of the teams that have advanced to the semifinals are good, and now it’s a do-or-die situation for us,” he said.
Karnataka, meanwhile, finished second in Group B with seven points in their kitty. They won against Gujarat and Services with their only defeat coming at the hands of Manipur. They were held to a 3-3 draw by Odisha in their first game.
“Kerala have home advantage but we will give our best in the game. Our team is motivated after our last win and we will not leave any stone unturned to win this one,” Karnataka boss Biby Thomas Muttath said.
Manipur qualified for the last four after winning Group B with nine points. They won three of their four group stage games, with their lone defeat coming against Odisha. In their most recent game, they thrashed Karnataka 3-0.
Manipur coach Gift Raikhan said, “We’ve prepared for West Bengal and will give it our all in the semi-finals.
“We respect the West Bengal team, but we’re prepared. We’re hoping to put up a good fight on Friday and make it to the final after so many years,” Raikhan added.
West Bengal reached the semi-finals after finishing second in Group A. West Bengal won their group stage games against Punjab, Meghalaya and Rajasthan, with their solitary loss coming against Kerala.
“We’ll try to reach the summit clash once more,” West Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacherjee stated.
“I believe our match against Manipur will be a tense affair since they are a strong team with some outstanding players,” he said.