Santosh Trophy: South Zone qualifiers to kick off at Kozhikode

In the opening match of Santosh trophy, Karnataka takes on Andhra Pradesh and it would be followed by host Kerala’s game against Puducherry. Those four teams make up Group A, while Group B features Services, Tamil Nadu, Telengana and Lakshadweep.

Kerala team practising ahead of the South Zone qualifying phase of the Santosh Trophy football tournament at Kozhikode.   -  S. Ramsh Kurup

It may be a few weeks before the summer arrives officially in Kerala, but it is already pretty hot in this part of the world.

To play football at 1.45 in the afternoon therefore might be a bit taxing, but the players have no option, as the South Zone qualifying phase of the Santosh Trophy opens at the Corporation Stadium here on Thursday.

The first match was originally scheduled to kick off at 2.30 p.m. and the second match at 4.30 p.m. but the officials deemed that there would not be enough light and thus advanced the timings.

In the opening match, Karnataka takes on Andhra Pradesh and it would be followed by host Kerala’s game against Puducherry. Those four teams make up Group A, while Group B features Services, Tamil Nadu, Telengana and Lakshadweep. Only the top team from each group will qualify for the final phase.

Services may have won that final phase in the last two editions, but its captain Rary S. Raj said the team was focused more on the qualification tournament. “It is going to be a tough event,” he said. “Since our team has seven Malayalis, we are particularly looking forward to playing here. From the team that won the Santosh Trophy last year, six players are here.”

The champion could face the biggest challenge from Tamil Nadu, whose captain V.R. Murugappan admitted Services was a formidable rival. “I have played them several times and have often surprised me with their fitness,” he said. “But, the weather here might give us an advantage. Chennai is even hotter.”

In Group A, Kerala starts the favourite, but its coach V.P. Shaji reckons it would not be easy to top the group. “Karnataka looks a very good side,” he said. “Ours is a very young side, but we have some experienced players too, especially up front.”

The fixtures:

January 5: Karnataka v Andhra; Kerala v Puducherry.

January 6: Services v Telengana; Tamil Nadu v Lakshadweep.

January 7: Puducherry v Karnataka; Andhra v Kerala.

January 8: Telengana v Tamil Nadu; Lakshadweep v Services.

January 9: Puducherry v Andhra; Kerala v Karnataka.

January 10: Telengana v Lakshadweep; Services v Tamil Nadu.

  Dugout videos