Principal Correspondent

KOCHI: Despite its stars being regulars in Kerala's Santosh Trophy campaign for the last few years, the State Bank of Travancore football team suddenly became an unknown quantity as it reached Goa for its Second Division National League matches.

The side has its first-ever foreigners, Nigerian forward Anthony Okechukwu Agbaraji and midfielder Ezeh Mna Henry, but the two are not familiar even to their own teammates.

"They joined just two days ago. So we had only that much time with the foreigners," said the SBT coach K.P. Sethumadhavan, from Duler, Goa, on Friday evening. The team opens its campaign against ONGC on Sunday.

Yet to settle down

The bank is yet to settle down after losing its gems, international N.P. Pradeep and Mohammed Rafi, to NFL champion Mahindra United in the last transfer market. Another big name, former Kerala captain Sylvester Ignatious, is on the injured list. Under the circumstances, a lot of hope rests on the two Nigerians to carry the team in the Second Division NFL's Cluster I series.

"I would say all the teams in our group (home side Vasco, Punjab Police, South East Central Railway, Mumbai's ONGC and Kolkata's Chirag United are the others) are equal," said Sethumadhavan, a former international.

Underdogs

The team's assistant coach Rajeev was also down to earth. "We are the underdogs," he said.

Three teams from the two clusters (the second cluster begins in Kochi on March 5) qualify for the Second Division's final phase. Two Kerala teams, Kochi's Viva Kerala being the other, figure in the Second Division this season and with only the top two from the final phase qualifying for next season's premier NFL, the race is really hot.

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper