Kolkata: Kerala rode on KP Rahul's late strike to edge defending champions Bengal 1-0 and enter the semifinals as group A toppers in the national football championship for the 72nd Santosh Trophy.
Both the teams missed a flurry of opportunities and the winning goal came only in the 90th minute when Rahul received a cross from Jithin M S from the right flank before pushing the ball into the net.
Kerala finished with four wins from as many matches to top the group with 12 points, while Bengal finish second with nine points from four matches. Bengal will face the Group B toppers while Kerala will take on the runner-up in the two semifinals on March 30.
Both teams made four changes each in their starting XI to give rest to their key players ahead of the last-four round. In the Kerala starting XI, Jestin George, JIthin Gopalan, Jiyad Hassan, Midhun V made way for Hajmal S, Sreerag G, Shamnas BL and Vibin Thomas.
In an inconsequential match at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium, Maharashtra hammered Manipur 7-2 after trailing 1-2 at halftime. Manipur drew first blood by Chanso Horam in the 17th minute before Maharashtra restored partity through Sahil Bhokare (28th).
The Northeastern outfit once again scored through Naorem Dhananjay Singh's spot kick in the 40th minute to lead 2-1 at the break. After the changeover, Maharashtra opened the flood gates riding on a hat-trick by Ranjeet Singh (59th, 78th and 90+1st minutes).
Nikhil Prabhu (76th), Kiran Pandhare (87th) and Mohammad Rahman Ansari (90+3rd) completed the rout for Maharashtra.