Holders Kerala made a shocking exit from the Santosh Trophy National Football Championships after failing to qualify for the final round of the competition. More than the ouster, what stunned football lovers in the state was the manner of their exit.
The team led by former international V P Shaji failed to score a single goal from three games in the qualifiers held at Neyveli in Tamil Nadu.
The six-time champions were held to goalless draws by Telangana and Puducherry before going down to Services 0-1 in a match, which they had to win by a margin of two goals to advance to the main phase.
The reluctance of Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Kerala Blasters to release striker Afdal V K came as a big jolt to both the Kerala Football Association and the Kerala team management’s plans.
Afdal, who scored three vital goals in the main stage of the competition in Kolkata last year, is with the Blasters team in the ongoing ISL season. He has failed to make a place in the Blasters playing eleven and it would have made sense if he was allowed to play in the Santosh Trophy.
Likewise, the decision of the Kerala Police team management to field defenders V G Sreerag and Vipin Thomas in the All-India Police Tournament at Malappuram made the Kerala team a depleted one. Both were part of the Kerala team which ended a 12-year wait to regain the Santosh Trophy last year.
Despite all these setbacks, Kerala should have fared better in the qualifiers. The failure to find the back of the net in three games demonstrated the lack of cutting edge in the frontline featuring Anurag P C, Christy Davis, Stefin Das and Sajith Paulose.
Amid the chaos, the only silver lining is the fact the squad led by Seesan S featured nine newcomers and seven under-21 players.
The only solace is they would have hopefully gained valuable exposure during the course of a highly forgettable campaign.