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Kerala challenge for in-form Maharashtra


Kochi : Maharashtra will have to once again bring out their doggedness that helped them reach the last-four stage when they lock horns with hosts Kerala in the first semi-final of the 67th Santosh Trophy for the National Football Championships at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here Thursday.

Maharashtra peaked at the right time after somehow staying afloat in the qualifying round with just one win from three matches. But there was no looking back for the four-time champions since then.

Thrashing the likes of Jharkhand and Goa 4-1 and 3-0, respectively, before edging Tamil Nadu 2-1 in the quarters, Maharashtra have showed the appetite for the title that remained elusive for 13 years.

But they will have to brave the acid test in the form of Kerala who will look to reap dividends from their home advantage, which according to their coach M.M. Jacob is the biggest morale booster.

“The home support here is tremendous. Kerala is known for vociferous crowds. They’ll yell their lungs out for the locals and in a semifinal clash. I can imagine how it will be. Needless to say this will be our biggest strength and we will look to cash on it. I don’t want to disappoint the supporters,” he said.

“Having said that, Maharashtra are a good team. They are in good form and will be more than a handful,” he added.

“We have conceded some last goals in the last two matches and that is a concern. We need to improve on that and plug the gaps well. I am not particularly happy with the way we played in the last few matches but surely we will pick ourselves up.”

Maharashtra Coach Farooq Ahmad echoed his counterpart in the home advantage aspect. “The crowd will be a huge advantage for them going into the clash. We need to on our toes. The fact that we will be travelling from Kollam to Kochi is another factor,” he maintained.

“Players will be a bit tired but that cannot be an excuse. We are up against it. Our team is a blend of youth and experience with the likes of Mohammed Rafi and NP Pradeep in the team. So we are confident of a good show.”

For the hosts, key midfielder Rakesh K — nursing an injury — will be unavailable for match while captain Rahul P stays a doubtful starter.

For the visitors, striker Francisco Salin will be missing.