Mallapuram: In the 30th minute of the Santosh Trophy semi-final against Karnataka, Kerala coach Bino George brought in a substitute player, who stepped in as Viknesh M stepped out. This moment marked the beginning of the newest football sensation from Kerala, 22-year-old Jesin Thonikkara.
Super sub Jesin scored five goals as Kerala thrashed Karnataka 7-3 to move a step closer to winning their seventh Santosh Trophy title in the first semi-final at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium in Mallapuram on Thursday. His impressive performance ensured Kerala's place in the final, and consequently their triumphant win against West Bengal on Monday.
Jesin's performance was a dream come true for his father, according to an interview published with the auto-rickshaw driver in the Indian Express. Mohammed Nizar watched his son create history live during Thursday's semi-final, bringing fruit to his love for football.
“I wanted to become a footballer but I was not focused. I got into various sports, such as athletics, basketball and kabaddi, and ended up becoming no one. I did not have anyone to advise me properly. Jesin was also good in athletics and he was into sprinting and all. The one advice I gave my son was to focus on just one thing at a time and I’m happy that he has stuck to football,” Nizar said, in the interview given to the Indian Express.
Karnataka was in the lead when Biby Thomas' side initiated another counter-attack with Kotikela holding off the defenders and laying off a perfect ball for the onrushing Kamalesh P. With just the goalie to beat, he poked his effort agonisingly wide, much to the dismay of his teammates and his coach. This was when Kerala roared back into the contest, and it all started after the Kerala coach brought in Jesin.
His first touch was almost a goal after a through ball was latched onto by the substitute but Karnataka keeper Kevin Koshy came off his line to good effect and thwarted the striker. But in the 35th minute, Jesin proved too quick for Koshy as this time he beat the advancing keeper and slotted home to equalise as the capacity crowd went wild with ecstasy.
Some very poor defending by the defensive duo of Siju S and M Sunil Kumar meant another presentable opportunity fell to Jesin. He toe-poked the ball past a helpless Koshy to hand the seven-time champions a deserved lead.
And it got even better for the substitute as he netted his hat-trick in the 45th minute. A shot from the right by Nijo Gilbert was saved by a diving Koshy but Jesin was once again on hand to divert the ball home. In a span of 15 minutes, Jesin had scored thrice. He went on to score two more, breaking the record for the most goals by a substitute player in the Santosh Trophy tournament history.
Jesin is also the record-holder for Kerala for the most number of goals in a game in the tournament. This was previously held by Asif Saheer, who netted four goals against Bihar in the 1999 edition. In Monday's final, Jesin scored one goal in the all-important penalty shootout which sealed the win for Kerala, marking their first win on home soil since 1991.
- Inputs from ANI