The Kerala leg of the Santosh Trophy football championship gets underway at the Lal Bahadur stadium here on Sunday when Karnataka takes on Himachal Pradesh in a cluster ‘B’ match.

Kollam, which is playing host to Santosh Trophy after a long gap of 25 years, will stage matches in cluster ‘A’ and ‘B’ as well as two quarterfinal groups. The banners and hoardings announcing the start of Santosh Trophy matches in Kollam have been displayed at many vantage points around the city.

The Lal Bahadur stadium — with its lush green turf blending nicely in with the greenish gallery — stands out amidst the rubble and piles of garbage in its vicinity. The stadium was renovated for the National Games to be hosted by Kerala next year, and the Santosh Trophy will be the first tournament to be staged on the newly laid turf. The Kollam Corporation and District sports council have worked together to conduct this tournament successfully. The cluster matches will be held till February 18, and after a two day break the quarterfinal league will begin on February 21. Last year’s runner-up Tamil Nadu and dark horse Manipur will play their quarterfinal matches in Kollam.

But teams figuring in the opening fixture — Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh — have no pretensions and a place in the quarterfinals is a reasonable goal for them. Both teams arrived two days in advance and trained at the adjoining FMN college ground. “We are the underdogs but we will try our best. To qualify from this tough group will be a big achievement,” said Himachal Pradesh’s chief coach Sudhir who hails from Kollam.

Bihar, which will be playing against Arunachal Pradesh in the second match on Sunday, will be arriving in the city late at night.

Kerala Sports Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar will inaugurate the tournament.

The groupings: Cluster ‘A’: Jharkhand, Gujarat, Chandigarh & Nagaland.

Cluster ‘B’: Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Daman & Diu & Bihar.

The fixtures: February 10: Karnataka v Himachal Pradesh; Arunachal Pradesh v Bihar.

February 12: Karnataka v Daman & Diu; Himachal Pradesh v Arunachal Pradesh.

February 13: Jharkhand v Gujarat; Chandigarh v Nagaland.

February 14: Himachal Pradesh v Bihar; Arunachal Pradesh v Daman & Diu.

February 15: Jharkhand v Chandigarh; Gujarat v Nagaland.

February 16: Karnataka v Arunachal Pradesh; Bihar v Daman & Diu.

February 17: Nagaland v Jharkhand; Gujarat v Chandigarh.

February 18: Himachal Pradesh v Daman & Diu; Karnataka v Bihar.

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