Maharashtra’s campaign in the 67th Santosh Trophy football championship hit a roadblock when the side ran into host Kerala in the semifinals and lost 1-2.
However, the tournament was a personal triumph for former international N.P. Pradeep and mainstay of the Maharashtra team. Maharashtra qualified for the semifinals from a tough group comprising Goa, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand.
But the side wasn’t good enough to beat host Kerala in what was an emotional match for Pradeep. “Yeah I was playing against some of my former team-mates and was keen to do well. Unfortunately we weren’t up to the mark on that particular day.
“But still I feel if we had enough time to practice at the Jawaharlal Nehru international stadium, things would have been different,” he said.
“We missed the injured Francisco Salin badly. We didn’t have enough bench strength and seniors like me had to take extra responsibility. But overall I was happy with the performance of the young team,” Pradeep said.
Of course, they did take the responsibility as Pradeep and Mohammed Rafi, the other senior player in the squad, scored seven out of the 10 goals scored.
“I am happy for Rafi who finally scored goals in his third Santosh Trophy season,” Pradeep said
Pradeep, who was once the highest paid footballer in the country, was happy with his form in the tournament. “I was playing in Kerala after five years so it was important for me to do well. Though I scored only three goals I was happy that I was able to contribute to the team’s win.
“I see myself as a dead ball expert and I particularly enjoyed the goals I scored against Tamil Nadu from the free-kick,” he said.
Pradeep, who hails from Idukki, had a point to prove after injury curtailed a career which was on an upswing. “I got injured at the wrong time. Whenever I get calls from my friends they ask me what I am doing especially after my injury. Now I think I have answered all their questions with a good performance in Santosh Trophy,” he said.
Pradeep, who last played for India in 2011, is also itching to get back into the Indian team. “It was a huge honour to play for the country. I am looking forward to the second division I-league which starts in Bangalore soon. Dodsal is a good side and we have a great future. Our immediate goal is to qualify for the I-league,” he said.