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KSEB ends SBT's four-year reign

Principal Correspondent

THRISSUR: Anil Kumar kept his word. His team, Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), shocked the holder and favourite SBT in the Royal Challenge State football league and created history at the Sree Kerala Varma College ground here on Wednesday.

KSEB won the all-Thiruvananthapuram final 4-2 via the penalty shootout, after the teams were locked 1-1 at the end of the regulation period.

It truly is a significant achievement, for the bankmen were the champions for the last four consecutive years.

KSEB should thank its skipper and goalkeeper M.V. Nelson and Ramesh, who took the last kick in the tie-breaker, for keeping their cool under the most trying conditions.

"It was the most important kick of my life," said Ramesh not long after slotting the ball in just to the right of SBT's custodian Jean Christian.

Earlier, Dinraj, substituting for Rajeev, had brought KSEB back into the match when he struck with just 11 minutes left for the final whistle, after T. Asif Saheer had given SBT the lead in the 52nd minute. For the bankmen, this was their second straight loss to KSEB; SBT had lost to its less glamorous rival in the Thiruvanthapuram district league last year. It was that win that gave the confidence to the KSEB forward Anil to say on Tuesday night that his team will beat SBT again. "We badly wanted to win today," he said shortly after the game.

But he and his teammates hadn't shown such desperation on the field, especially in the first half, as they were content to play a defensive game, displaying reluctance to enter the rival box. "Yes, we were too defensive in the first half," admitted the victorious coach S. Joseph. "We didn't want to take risks against such a dangerous, attacking side."

He also conceded that the bankmen were the dominant team. "But I had this feeling that we would win if it came to the shoot-out; for luck has been on our side of late," he said, referring to the team finishing at the top of its group and avoiding a clash with SBT in the semifinal. SBT had quite a few chances to finish off the match without going into the shootout, but it was let down by poor finishing, especially by Abdul Hakkim. The team's attacks were looking promising after the break, and when Asif volleyed in that goal from close-in after being fed by Mohammed Rafi, it seemed the title was safe for another year with SBT.

At that stage, Abdul Noushad, Rafi, Hakkim and Sahir were combining well up front and had the rival defence under considerable pressure.

Then came that equaliser, rather against the run of the play, as Dinraj, from just inside the box, headed in a fine cross from Renjith near the right flag kick, following a pass from Anil down the centre.

In the shootout, Vinod and Jaseer were on target for KSEB, besides Ramesh, while Girish and Yesudasan failed to covert. For SBT, only N.P. Pradeep, who was adjudged the player of the tournament, scored, as Noushad, Hakkim and Martin missed, one after another.

The ghosts of NFL haven't let SBT go yet.

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