Chandigarh springs a welcome surprise

The team “exceeded expectations” in the ongoing Santosh Trophy.

Chandigarh’s manager Rajiv Kumar Rattan (left) and coach Mukesh Kumar.   -  Special Arrangement

After having qualified for the Santosh Trophy national football championship after a long gap of 19 years, everyone expected Chandigarh to be an easy opponent for other teams in Group A. But the team held its own against former champions Goa, Bengal and Services. It went down to Bengal by a last minute goal and defeated Meghalaya 2-1 before ending its campaign on a high note by holding host Goa to a 1-1 draw.

Chandigarh finished third in the group with four points ahead of Meghalaya and Services and left the tournament with a lot of positives and promises.

The team had enjoyed a similarly successful season in Chennai in 1998, when it entered the quarterfinals before bowing out to Goa as Bruno Coutinho’s hat-trick eliminated it from the tournament. Coach Mukesh Kumar and Manager Rajiv Kumar Rattan, who were members of that 1998 team, said it has “exceeded expectations” this season.

“We exceeded expectations especially when we came here with a second string squad. Seven of our first choice players who helped us to qualify couldn’t come here as they were playing for Minerva FC in the I-League. Gangandeep Singh played with shoulder injury and was not fully fit. We missed our star striker Girik Khosla; if he [were] here things would have been different. Anyway, we are proud of what we have done here. The people have taken notice of us and it is a good experience for our players. I think Amandeep Singh and Harpreet Singh were the standout players for us in this tournament,” said Mukesh, who was the goalkeeper for his team in 1998.

Smaller pool of players, lack of tournaments and of infrastructure were issues hampering the growth of football in Chandigarh, said manager Rajiv Rattan, who had played as striker back then. “The club structure is not very strong. We don’t have many clubs in Chandigarh and there are just two grounds dedicated to football. There aren’t many tournaments for players. The only way forward is to hold more age-level tournaments,” Rajiv said.

“We always had the talent. I was the coach when we won the Under-19 title in 2010. We had some really good players. Current India internationals Sandesh Jhinghan, Summet Passi and Shehnaj Singh were part of the squad. But both Sandesh and Summet never played for Chandigarh again and some players went to represent other States. Things are now looking up with Minerva FC, which is based in Chandigarh giving opportunities for youngsters. The club won the Under-16 I-League title consecutively for two years and is now competing in the I-League. Some academies have also come up which augurs well for future,” said Rajiv Rattan.

Chandigarh has sowed seeds for the future and it is up to Chandigarh Football Association (CFA) to cash in on the positive show by the current Santosh Trophy squad.

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