Bengal, the record 32 times champion, has been placed in tough Group B along with heavyweights Punjab and Haryana in the Santosh Trophy groupings that was unveiled here on Wednesday.
Odisha, Delhi and Ladakh are the three other teams in Group B. Thirty-six teams have been divided into six groups.
The toppers along with four runners-up will join defending champion Karnataka and runner-up Meghalaya in the Final Round of the 77th National Football Championship or the Santosh Trophy.
Bengal, which is also runners-up on 14 occasions, is yet to win a title since 2016-17. It holds the record for the most successive Santosh Trophy titles, having won six back-to-back editions between 1993 and 1999.
Punjab is the second-most successful team with eight titles.
Seven-time winner Kerala is clubbed with Goa, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir in Group A.
The Santosh Trophy 2022-23 final was played in Riyadh, the first time the domestic title was decided abroad. Karnataka beat Meghalaya in the final to lift its first title since 1968-69.
SANTOSH TROPHY GROUPINGS
Meanwhile, 35 teams in the 28th Senior Women’s National Football Championship were divided into six groups -- Groups A to E -- will have six teams each, while Group F will have five sides.
The six group winners, along with four best second-placed teams will join last year’s finalists Tamil Nadu and Haryana in the final round.
“I am sure this season will see much better competition, and we will have the opportunity to see new teams and talented players come through,” AIFF Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said at the draw ceremony here.
The dates and venues of the two tournaments are yet to be announced.
SENIOR WOMEN’S NFC GROUPINGS
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