Karthik Krishnaswamy

Chennai: The last time Bengal won the Santosh Trophy was in 1999, when it defeated Goa 5-0 at Chennai’s Nehru Stadium. Ten years on, the two teams face off again, at the same venue.

Neither side contains survivors from the ’99 edition.

Young side

“Our boys are very young, and they are determined to win the tournament. We have won it 29 times, but none of these boys have won it before. That makes them even more hungry,” said Bengal manager Prasun Banerjee.

Banerjee watched the semifinal between Tamil Nadu and Goa on Thursday, and reckoned that the better team lost. “I’m very happy to see Tamil Nadu play so well, and I think they were one of the best teams in the tournament. Honestly speaking, they should have won,” he said.

“But still, Goa is a good team, and have some very experienced players. Our team doesn’t have the same level of experience, but I’m confident we can win.”

Reflecting on his team’s narrow semifinal win, Goa coach Mariano Dias said, “I thought the game would go into extra time, and I was glad we got that last-minute penalty.”

Goan team unwinds

Ahead of Sunday’s final, the Goa team chose not to train on Friday, and opted to unwind at the Marina swimming pool instead. “We had a good 35-40 minute workout today,” said Dias.

Part of Goa’s reason for eschewing training was the condition of the ground at SDAT Nehru Park, allotted by the Tamil Nadu Football Association for practice. “The ground there is very hard, and we don’t want to risk making the condition of our injured players (Joaquim Abranches, Fredy Mascarenhas and Branco Cardozo) worse.”

The injury-free Bengal team trained at the SDAT ground for an hour and a half on Friday morning, and will do the same on Saturday.

Even so, Banerjee was scathing in his assessment of the surface.

“It’s like a road – uneven, no grass, and no markings. How can we practise properly, especially taking penalties, in such conditions?”

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