“Once we had beaten Manipur, easily the best team in the championship, and entered the final, we thought we had a hand on the Santosh Trophy,” said the Tamil Nadu coach Sabir Pasha. But things took a different turn on the eve of the final that Services eventually won.
“Sudden rain, half-an-hour before the contest, made a radical change to the playing conditions,” Pasha said on the unexpected difficulties that cropped up for the players in the final.
“While I will not offer this as an excuse, I must say our boys are not used to playing in slippery conditions. We were not prepared for this, whereas the opposing team had several players who are accustomed to playing in the rain in Kolkata,” he said on how Tamil Nadu failed in the final analysis.
Still, reaching the title-round for the second time after a 40-year gap, the last being in 1972-73 in Goa, the State team had done itself proud.
“I am not, for a minute, admitting that Services was a weak side, but our confidence was high after that gruelling match against Mizoram where we came back from two goals arrears to win,” he said.
That match strengthened the self-belief in the side even if the team lost two players to Red card punishment, Naveen and Murugappan.
What heartened the coach was the State team, a young side with an average age of 23, jelled so well.
“Everyone played to a plan and as a coach, I was simply overwhelmed with that,” he said.
Pasha made the players think they were playing “just another match, nothing more and nothing less” on the morning of the final. We were not looking at history. We knew we would make it if we played to our potential,” he added.
Pasha, who has been given another extension for two years as the state team coach by the TFA President, S.M. Seeni Mohaideen, said: “This team needs to be nurtured and with enough exposure.
“The boys will deliver.”
As a player, Pasha had twice seen Tamil Nadu reach the semifinals. To that extent, he had done a touch better in Odisha as a coach.
Earlier, the team members were warmly received at the airport by TFA officials, led by Mr. Mohaideen.
He said the association was working out “prize money” for each player. “I can assure you each of you will soon receive not less than Rs. 50,000 for their good show,” he said at a simple reception at the Nehru Stadium later.
Keywords: Santosh Trophy