Feisty performers

Four months ago, he landed in Nasik for an Army football trial. Lalian Mawia (in pic.) was quick to show his potential and virtually walked into the Services team.

The 20-year-old from Mizoram played a big role in Services’ Santosh Trophy triumph. His two goals helped the champion defeat a fighting Punjab 3-1 in the semifinal. And he had only come in as a substitute midway through the second session.

Clearly, the youngster who was making his Santosh Trophy debut was one of the finds of the 67th national championship.

“I saw the spark in him when I noticed him running up and down the ground during the trials,” said Services coach Sajith Kumar. “He is also lean and looked hungry to go up in life, working hard. He will go a long way.”

Another Services player, Dipak Shrestha walked away with the championship’s most valuable player award. “He hails from Nepal and is with the Gorkha Regiment in Shillong,” said Sajith about his 26-year-old midfielder. “He has a fighting spirit, and will keep going all through the 90 minutes.” But, despite these brave performances Sajith and Services were forced to endure many tense moments as the final went to sudden-death. “My heart stopped when our two shots were saved (by Kerala goalkeeper Jean Christian) in the tiebreaker. I thought the Santosh Trophy had slipped from our hands. But I had faith in our goalkeeper Nano Singh. He is also my trainee in the Army Green team. I knew he would come up with some crucial saves. And finally, we took the trophy.”

Still, the best team in the championship was not Services or Kerala — the top two finishers. That honour should go to fighting Punjab. “Punjab plays a lovely game, two-touch, three-touch moves… a direct game, no gimmicks,” said former international Sabir Pasha.

And despite playing the semifinal without its top scorer Prem Kumar, who had picked up two yellow cards, Punjab put up a brave fight against Services in the semifinal.

“Punjab played very well but the referee spoiled that game,” said the Kerala coach, M. M. Jacob. “He should not have given a second yellow to that player for playacting at that stage in a crucial game.”

— STAN RAYAN