Santosh Trophy: Tamil Nadu look to defy history with home support

June 1st, 2009 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, June 1 (IANS) Hosts Tamil Nadu are the odd team out as the quarterfinal league of the 63rd National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy starts at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here Tuesday.
As hosts, Tamil Nadu would not be lacking in partisan support, but history is against them. They made it to the final just once, 36 years ago in Goa, where they lost to Bengal 1-4.

This time, Tamil Nadu are alongside seven teams all of whom have won the Santosh Trophy. Bengal top the count with 29, followed by Punjab (8), Goa (4), Karnataka (4), Maharashtra (3), Services (1) and Manipur (1).

In the quarter-final league, Tamil Nadu are in Group A with holders Punjab, Bengal and Manipur while Group B has Services, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa.

Two other multiple champions, Kerala (5) and the Indian Railways (3), were knocked out in the pre-quarterfinals Sunday with Maharashtra and Manipur advancing at their expense, respectively.

The results perhaps reflected the uncertainties in the tournament, and Tamil Nadu would be hoping that it would be their turn to spring a surprise.

The tournament is expected to shift gears in terms of quality that was at a premium in the preliminary rounds where 26 teams contested in eight groups and at four venues.

The track record suggests Punjab and Bengal will be overwhelming favourites for the trophy though the two are in the same group and the contest between them June 6 could well be a sneak preview of another clash in the final.

However, Tamil Nadu cannot be discounted. In the lead up to the quarter-final league, the hosts played a refreshingly attacking brand of football, scoring 30 goals in all to give themselves a momentum. The opposition from here on would be of a higher class and that should provide a more realistic reference point to Tamil Nadu’s quality.

Punjab showed great resilience last year when they shrugged off a loss to Services in the quarter-final league, but avenged the defeat in the final that they won 1-0 on a 40th minute penalty conversion by Balraj Singh. In the semi-finals, Punjab stayed the distance to overcome Karnataka 4-3 on penalties after a goalless draw.

Services, riding on Sochungmi Raleng’s 13 goals, had looked the best of the contenders, especially after destroying Bengal 4-1 in the semi-finals, a result that underlined the fading fortunes in the context of the Santosh Trophy of a region rich in football legacy and romance of Indian football. It has been a decade since Bengal last won the trophy.

This year, Bengal have entered a fairly young team with a sprinkling of experience that would do well to take a few tips from their manager, Prasun Banerjee, who is also a former Indian international.

Their coach Raghu Nandy did not exactly portray optimism when in a recent interview where he was quoted as saying: “We have a slight weakness in our striking department.”

In the event, Bengal would have to play out of their skins to win the trophy for the 30th time.

Likewise, Karnataka seem to have their salad days behind them. Their last success was 40 years ago as Mysore during a period that is often described as the “golden age” of football in the state that then boasted of a wealth of talent and produced some gems that are now part of folklore.

The other strong contenders, Goa, have always been a force to reckon with in the last three decades despite their sporadic success, the last of which was in 2006 when they beat Maharashtra in the final.

It is difficult to visualise either Maharashtra or Manipur making much headway though both are capable of being party-spoilers.

Tuesday’s fixtures:

4 pm - Punjab vs Manipur. 6.30 pm - Bengal vs Tamil Nadu.

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