Santosh Trophy: A bunch of fighters from Lakshadweep

Lakshadweep plays Kerala in the Santosh Trophy's South Zone qualfiers which begin at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Wednesday.

Lakshadweep football team (pic) plays Kerala in the Santosh Trophy's South Zone qualfiers which begin at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Wednesday.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Milton Antony has never been to Lakshadweep and the three weeks he has been in charge of the islands' football team are clearly not enough to bring about a magical transformation.

Lakshadweep plays Kerala in the Santosh Trophy's South Zone qualfiers which begin at the Nehru Stadium here on Wednesday and Antony is confident of one thing.

“They may not be much individually, they don't have any outstanding players, but they are capable of doing well collectively,” said Antony, the Lakshadweep coach who hails from Ernakulam, in a chat with Sportstar.

“They have good fighting spirit, so we can't say what will happen.”

The Lakshadweep men, who made their Santosh Trophy debut in 2016-17, may not stand a chance against Kerala but they have a big goal before them.

“The goal is to play good football so that more players come up in Lakshadweep. They want to be an inspiration for the youngsters back home,” said Antony, a former assistant coach of the Kerala Santosh Trophy team.

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Footballers in Lakshadweep don't get to play the sport frequently.

“We have smaller grounds so nines football is popular. And we don't have daily sessions, just a few days training before tournaments because there will be just one ground in every island. And that is also where all the functions will be held,” said Salahudeen, the team's manager.

“The annual inter-island tournament, a nine-team affair, is the only tournament they play back home. Our players don't get any exposure. If they get good coaching, they will come up well.”

The team includes twins Mohammed Aimen and Mohammed Azhar, who grew up in Kochi as their father is employed here and they played for the Kerala Blasters reserve team.

The team's camp was held at Kakkkayam, in Kallanode on the Kozhikode-Wayanad border, a hilly area where the frequently changing weather surprised the players.

The Lakshadweep boys are also capable of pulling off a surprise.

They shocked Telangana 1-0 and also gave a bit of a scare to Tamil Nadu in their Santosh Trophy debut season in January 2017.

The South Zone Group 'B' also includes Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar and offers a few chances for Lakshadweep to try a trick or two.

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