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Santosh Trophy: There were many hurdles, but we are focused on task at hand, says Punjab coach

The team that performed superbly to top their group both in the group stage and the Final Round is in Riyadh without two key players — striker Rohit Sheikh and Biplub Kala — and will participate in the knockout stage matches at the King Fahd International Football Stadium here on Wednesday. Both the players had to be left behind because their visas could not be processed in time for them to leave for Riyadh.

"We did face some problems — first there was a clash with the inter-university football championships as some players were involved with that. But we still managed to top our group and also topped the group in the second round," Harjinder Singh, head coach of the Punjab team, said during the pre-match press conference here on Tuesday.

Asked how he will manage without the two key players, Harjinder said the players he has with him here are also good and they will try to manage with whatever resources he has here.

Punjab have won the Santosh Trophy eight times and have also finished runners-up on eight occasions — they are the second-most successful team in the National Football Championship behind West Bengal, who have won the title 32 times in 76 editions. However, their last title came in 2007-08.

Punjab have gone 15 years without winning the Santosh Trophy but Harjinder Singh said his boys are focused on their job. He said his players are young, mostly university players and are ready for the challenges they will face in Riyadh over the next few days.

Asked to analyse their opponents Meghalaya before their semifinal clash, the Punjab coach said all opponents at this stage are very tough.

"Sir, if I analyze total Indian football, I rate every state at the same level because there are 36 teams, 36 states who are participating in Santosh Trophy and all are at one level. We four teams have qualified for the semifinal. No team is weak, every team is tough at this level," said Harjinder.

Punjab captain Rajat Kumar said his team has prepared well and is excited to get this opportunity to play on foreign soil.

Asked whether he is excited to be playing in the stadium and turf on which legends Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have played, Rajat said they are excited about playing in the stadium.

Talking about how different it would be to play in a stadium full of 50,000 foreigners, he said when on the field, they only think about their opponents.

"We know that our opponents, whoever they are, we are going to play them, not their supporters. We only think about the game and the opponent team," Rajat said.



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