Teams depend on new talents for Santosh Trophy glory

The group league matches of final stage of the tournament will be held in three stadiums around the city.

A file photo of a Santosh Trophy match between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Defending Champion Bengal will be looking to extend its pre-eminence in National Football Championship when it starts its campaign against a strong Manipur in the group league stage, as the contest for the Santosh Trophy returns to the city after a break of seven years. Kerala, another strong contender for the title, will be resuming its quest taking on Chandigarh in the other match of day.

The group league matches of final stage of the tournament will be held in three stadiums around the city with the semfinals and the final likely to be played at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium. The 10 teams qualifying to the final stage are divided in two groups with holder Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Chandigarh and Maharashtra clubbed in Group A. Last year’s runner-up Goa is leading the challenge in Group B, which also has Mizoram, Punjab, Odisha and Karnataka.

The majority of the established names in Indian football will be busy with their club assignments as the final stage of the Super Cup is scheduled to start in the first week of April. In such a situation, the Santosh Trophy will be striving to showcase some new talents who have found their way in the 10 state teams from across the country. This could be gauged from the side that the 32-time champion Bengal, which is coached by Ranjan Chowdhury, has pieced together. The host had a lot of new comers in the side in absence of representations from the clubs teams.

Kerala is shaping under seasoned coach Satheevan Balan. With the tournament rules stipulation the inclusion of five under-21 players in the squad, out of which three will be in the playing eleven, the teams have been forced to look for talents from the youth level. The Kerala side, which won the title over a decade ago in the 2004-2005 season, has made a few good selections from the Calicut University side which recently won the all-India University football under the coaching of Balan.

The North-Eastern giants like Manipur and Mizoram, the two regions which contribute in producing the most number of top class professional players in the country, are also the sides to look for.

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