Kochi, Dec 4: Kerala Blasters booked their ticket to the semi-finals in style, forcing a 1-0 victory over NorthEast United FC in an Indian Super League (ISL) football match here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday, December 4.
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The match was a virtual quarter-final as the victorious team was poised to advance to the semis.
Kerala Blasters will face Delhi while Mumbai City FC will take on Atletico de Kolkata in the two-legged semi-finals.
Striker C.K. Vineeth continued his rich form with the winner in the 66th minute to show their rivals, who needed to win in order to topple Kerala, the door. Vineeth became the highest Indian scorer in the process with five strikes to his name.
Mohammed Rafi came closest to doubling the margin in the dying minutes of the match when his header was deflected on to the crosspiece by goalkeeper Graham Stack.
Kerala were without the services of Josue Currais Prieto and midfielder Mehtab Hossain, who was replaced by Azrack Mahamat, NorthEast missed Nicolas Velez.
In the fourth minute, the hosts had a chance to nose ahead when Duckens Nazon picked up the ball down the left channel and dribbled inside the box, but his effort found Rehenesh palming the ball out.
NorthEast's Seityasen Singh looked good down the flanks, constantly testing the rival defenders with incisive runs.
At halftime, it was goalless.
NorthEast's Emiliano Alfaro had two good chances after the break near the hour mark, the second one being a one-on-one situation with goalkeeper Graham Stack after Seityasen Singh had set the Uruguayan up.
Kerala soon took the lead through Vineeth. The local lad, in prime form, netted his fifth goal in six matches with a crisp strike from just inside the box cutting to his left and scoring at the far post with superb placement.
It was all Kerala thereafter as they strung together a flurry of attacks and came close to doubling their lead as substitute Antonio German found Rehenesh parrying away his stinging shot.
For the visitors, Seityasen and Romaric tried hard to level proceedings with Alfaro coming closest with an effort with fizzed off the post.