The fifth day of the 72nd Santosh Trophy final round sprang contrasting stories. While Kerala were involved in another goal-fest, a 6-0 win over home-bound Manipur, Maharashtra's 2-1 win over Chandigarh eliminated the latter's hopes of making the semi-finals.
At the Sailen Manna Stadium in Howrah, Kerala and Manipur went into the tunnel at half-time with the scoreline intact. Post the breather, Manipur shipped in six goals, capping off a horrendous 45 minutes of football for the north-eastern side.
Striker Afdal VK (47') broke the deadlock soon after the restart as the floodgates opened. Rahul KP (59') doubled the lead from Afdal's assist. Three minutes later, Jithin Gopalan (62' and 84'), who had earlier set-up Afdal made it to the scoresheet.
Jithin MS (71'), who bagged a brace of goals and assists in their last match, a 5-1 win over Chandigarh joined the party ten minutes later. But it was the other Jithin who brought up his brace to add to his assist for the side's fifth goal.
Roshan Singh's (90+4' OG) made it worse as he hit his own net. Kerala leapfrogged Bengal to go top of the group with a superior goal difference over the hosts with both tied on six points from two outings each. The Satheevan Balan-coached side will now face Maharashtra. Manipur has a point from three games and will play for pride against Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, two early goals from Maharashtra decided the fate of the tie despite Chandigarh's late heroics that yielded a consolation goal.
Left-winger Shubham Khanvilkar (5') took advantage of being unmarked in the box as he neatly chipped home from a rebound off the keeper following his teammate Advait Shinde's initial shot.
Chandigarh goalkeeper Manvir Singh had to face more embarrassment four minutes later when skipper and left-back Dion Menezes (9') lofted a ball from around 40 yards which the custodian failed to anticipate and it went over his head and into the goal.
The western state had switched off in the second half with the game going nowhere. Suddenly, Chandigarh showed some urgency and late chances did result in a goal but striker Vishal Sharma (88') had left it too late to stage a comeback.
The Union Territory's chances to make it to the last four were pipped. They will play Bengal on Sunday.
Maharashtra will avoid being the third-wheel and hope to not lose against Kerala on the same day.