Santosh Trophy: 12 teams in contention in final round preview in Arunachal Pradesh

February 20, 2024
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The National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy breaks new ground every year like organising the final-four stage in Riyadh

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) The National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy breaks new ground every year like organising the final-four stage in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where Karnataka were crowned champions after 54 years. Having broken new ground with a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, the nation’s premier state tournament is set to be held in Arunachal Pradesh for the first time.

Like Meghalaya, Karnataka have also lost some important names from last year like Robin Yadav, Bekey Oram and M Sunil Kumar, but Raju remains confident. “Our squad has many youngsters with a balanced mix of experienced players. We must be strong and ready to compete,” he added.

Maharashtra, who led the goalscoring charts in the group stage with a whopping 24 goals in five matches, are one of the favourites in Group B. A bulk of those numbers were racked up by Himanshu Patil, Nikhil Kadam and Advait, who will look to recreate the same in Yupia. Further, India’s Asian Games squad member Azfar Noorani has also joined the squad.

Manipur have been another free-scoring side, netting 21 goals in the first round. Head coach Thangjam Saran Singh has one of the youngest squads in the final round at his disposal, highlighted by forwards Phijam Sanathoi Meetei and Wangkheimayum Sadananda Singh. Interestingly, the last time the Santosh Trophy was held in the Northeast (2011 in Guwahati) was also the last time Manipur reached the final, losing to West Bengal.

On the other hand, Delhi are a side that made it into the final round based on a rock-solid defence, eking out three 1-0 wins. The capital side, who won their only Santosh Trophy title in 1945, have assembled one of their best squads in recent years.

“Our expectations are high. We have a blend of young and experienced players, including those from CISF and Indian Air Force and others who recently competed in I-League 2 and 3,” said head coach Vikrant Sharma.

Mizoram and Railways, both of whom qualified as one of the best runners-up, round up Group B. The former will heavily miss the services of tournament top-scorer Lalkhawpuimawia, who scored eight goals in the group stage. However, other names like Vanlalbiaa Chhangte, R. Malsawmtluanga and MC Malsawmzuala will bring plenty of I-League experience to the table. For Railways, Shabaz Pathan and Nuruddin have been in fine form.

–IANS

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