Amitabha Das Sharma

SRINAGAR: Top claimants for the title were clustered in one group as the Santosh Trophy quarterfinal league fixtures were finalised here on Tuesday evening. In group B, last year’s runner-up and 29-times champion Bengal found itself in company of three other traditionally strong sides — former champions Goa, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. The Group A, led by the defending champion Punjab, had Kerala, Services and host Jammu and Kashmir.

The All India Football Federation introduced a new system of deciding the groupings through drawing of lots, which was done in front of the media and the representatives of the playing teams. “In last few years, we found that the teams qualifying from the pre-quarterfinal stage complaining about the system of pre-determined slotting in the quarterfinal league,” said the AIFF’s director of tournaments Anil Kamath.

“So we decided to make the fixture even more transparent by introducing the draw of lots to determine the groupings,” he added.

The two groups divided the four semifinalists from the last year and placed the two finalists in separate groups. The four qualifiers were then placed in the two groups through the draw of lots.

Group of death

“This is a virtual group of death,” said one of the senior Goa team officials Peter Vales with a chuckle. Goa had a reason to be worried as it meets Bengal in the very first group match on June 6. Maharashtra and Karnataka play the other match on the same day. Defending champion Punjab opens the fixtures of the elite stage of the competition taking on Services. Kerala and host J&K play the other match on the same. All the matches will be held in the Bakshi Stadium, while the Polo Ground, which hosted the pre-quarterfinals, is kept as an alternate venue.

The kick-off timings has been fixed at 2.15 pm and 4.15 pm. Zee Sports will be telecasting the matches live.

The schedule: Quarterfinal fixtures: June 5 (Group A): Pun vs Services, Kerala vs J&K; June 6 (Group B): Bengal vs Goa, Maharashtra vs Karnataka; June 7 (Group A): J&K vs Pun, Serv vs Ker; June 8 (Group B): Kar vs Ben, Goa vs Mah; June 9 (Group A): J&K vs Serv, Ker vs Pun; June 10 (Group B): Goa vs Kar, Ben vs Mah.

Semifinals: June 12: Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group B; June 13: Winner Group B vs Runner-up Group A. Final: June 15.

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