The youthful brigade from Maharashtra is just a step away from glory. But in the final of the 70th Santosh Trophy football championship, the host faces a formidable opponent in Services which has lifted the cup three times in the last four years.

Fearlessness combined with technical finesse has been Maharashtra’s trait in this championship. Maharashtra ended Tamil Nadu’s dream run in the tournament to enter the final for the first time in 11 years. The one-touch play and quick attack has seen this side win over fans in this tournament.

But the young side will face a test of character against Services which is known for its perseverance. Without being flashy, Services has been effective in this tournament. The team has managed to soak pressure and has stunned opponents with late goals. Services, which scored a last minute goal to beat Maharashtra 1-0 when the two teams met in the league phase of the tournament, can feel quietly confident about it.

Services coach Shaji pointed out that Maharashtra’s strength is its midfield and the former Santosh Trophy player wants his side to dominate that key area. “It will be a match between two teams which have similar strengths. We also have a strong midfield and we will be looking to dominate them in that area. We will be playing our hard pressing game which has upset our rivals in the previous games and we will be hoping to rein in Raynier Fernandez who has been their key player in the midfield,” said the coach.

Experienced side

The Services coach is also counting on big match temperament and experience of his players in the final against the rampaging Maharashtra side. “Our players are pretty experienced and they know how to handle pressure. They are fighters and will not yield an inch and many of them are from Army Red which finished second in the tough Kolkata league. We are determined to defend our title,” said the coach.

Augusto D’silva’s boys have been a revelation in this tournament. Apart from individual brilliance, the team has played well as a unit. Except for the reverse against Services in the league match, Maharashtra has been dominant in other matches including the semi-final against Tamil Nadu. Coach Augusto said the defeat in the league phase will not have a bearing on the final. “We are not overawed by our opponents. I must say the final will be between our technical finesse and their tactical ability. In the league match we were weakened by absence of two key players. They are back in the squad.

“The boys are motivated and keen to go out and perform. We will be playing our trademark attacking style in the final. I find no reason why we mustn’t hold it back against Services. Yes Services is a pretty good experienced side but we are ready for them,” said the confident coach.

Young guns

With an average age of 23, Maharashtra is probably the youngest side in this tournament. Aaron D’Costa on the right and Raynier on left have been shouldering the responsibility of feeding the strikers through both wings. Mohammed Shabaz, Vijit Shetty all had their moments in the tournament. It was often individual brilliance of its players that has helped Maharashtra to wriggle out of tight situation in this tournament. But against a hard-tackling Services side, Maharashtra has its task cut out.