Kochi: The attackers from Kerala received all applause for the good start of the team in the South Zone qualification of the 75th Santosh Trophy. And the praise is well deserved, because the hosts scored 14 goals in the two games with seven different goalscorers. The most important cog in head coach Bino George’s squad, however, is defensive midfielder Akhil Praveen, who once again dictated the game when Kerala beat the Andaman and Nicobar Islands 9-0 on Friday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
The Kerala United player provides vital cover for Kerala’s defenses, but he has more to his game than just crushing attacks. Akhil has the ball under his feet and can pick up a pass with great precision. No wonder he’s one of the first names on the team sheet.
“It’s my job to combine defense and attack. I have to help the central defenders when the two full-backs push forward and also be useful in attack. It’s a big responsibility, but I enjoy it, ”said Akhil, who is from Ernakulam and previously played for Kerala FC, Ozone FC and Bengaluru United.
Having a defensive midfielder who can contribute to attacks is especially important when teams like Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep decide to numerically defend before them.
On Friday, while Kerala was looking for goals, Akhil saw his long-range shot ricochet off the crossbar. “It can get frustrating when teams ‘park the bus’. We could face the same situation in our last game. But it’s up to us to find the solutions, like we did in the first two games, ”said Akhil.
Kerala and Puducherry have to play for anything
Nijo Gilbert, Jesin TK and Moammed Safnad all scored twice, while Vibin Thomas, Arjun Jayaraj and Salman K also scored against Andaman and the Nicobar Islands as Kerala rose to the top of Group B by six points. Kerala can secure a spot in the final of the competition if they avoid losing to Puducherry on Sunday. Puducherry, who have four points, will now have to win on Sunday to qualify after holding a 1-1 draw with Lakshadweep on Friday.