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Santosh Trophy Final: Onus on Karnataka, Meghalaya to add lustre to history

Karnataka have last won the Santosh Trophy in 1968-69 and this is the first time they have reached the final in nearly five decades.

Meghalaya are in their maiden final. Having never made it to the semifinals previously, the state from the NorthEast has exceeded expectations by coming so far.

So, expect the unexpected in the first final on foreign soil for the National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy.

Both teams have come up with some great performances in the tournament so far as they have overcome some tricky hurdles to make it to the summit clash of the prestigious tournament.

While Meghalaya have depended on the mystical flair and attacking style of the NorthEastern side to overcome strong opponents like 32-time champions West Bengal, neighbours Manipur and a strong Railways side in the process.

Their lone defeat in the tournament so far came against Services as they finished second in Group B in the second round and qualify for the semifinals for the first time after topping their pool ahead of Delhi in the preliminary group stage.

In the semifinals, they came back from a goal down against a depleted Punjab side to win 2-1. Punjab played without four first-choice players who could not travel to Riyadh because of various issues. They also conceded their early advantage and control of the midfield in the second half. Sheen Stevenson scored a late winner in the 91st minute to seal victory for Meghalaya.

Now that they have stunned everyone by reaching so far, Meghalaya would be hoping to continue their Cinderella run and come up with one more fierce performance in the final.

Karnataka, on the other hand, had to overcome tougher hurdles to make it this far. Their performance grew with each match as they qualified as one of the three best second-place finishers in the first round of the tournament being in a new format in which all 36 teams from states and Union Territories figured in the first round. There were six teams in each group in the first round.

"It definitely helped us get together and develop as a strong unit. All our players are from various clubs in the Bangalore Super Division. The format helped us grow as a team," said Karnataka’s head coach Ravi Babu Raju who has participated in the Santosh Trophy as a player and coach.

It is Raju’s tactical acumen that helped Karnataka overcome a 2018-19 winner Services in the semifinal. Karnataka hustled Services players in the midfield and cut off the supply line to rival forwards. Grabbing midfield domination helped them emerge a 3-1 winner against four-time winners Services.

Now that they have made it to the final, Raju said his players are determined to end the 54-year-long title drought.

"I have told my players that this is the most important match for us. We can’t relax, we are determined to win the trophy. We had come to Saudi Arabia with that goal and the players are focused on the job," said Raju.

On paper, Karnataka have slightly better players — Raju has three players from ISL club Bengaluru FC’s reserve squad and also three of his players are from Bengaluru United, the I-League second division club.

However, the title will go to the state whose players manage to keep their nerves intact at the King Fahd International Stadium here on Saturday.

It’s a historic moment when the final of the National Football Championships will be played on foreign soil. Karnataka and Meghalaya will be hoping to make their own piece of history — by adding their own lustre to the prestigious trophy.



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