FOOTBALL | Karnataka to lead the challenge in the Santosh Trophy final stage

February 20, 2024 08:29 pm | Updated 08:29 pm IST - YUPIA (ARUNACHAL PRADESH)

Defending champion Karnataka will be the team to beat.

Defending champion Karnataka will be the team to beat.

Defending champion Karnataka will lead the challenge in the final round of the 77th National football championship for the Santosh Trophy, which gets underway at the Golden Jubilee Stadium near Arunachal Pradesh’s capital Itanagar on Wednesday.

A total of 12 teams (nine qualifiers from the group stage and three automatic qualifiers — host Arunachal Pradesh and last year’s finalists Karnataka and Meghalaya) have been divided into two groups of six each in the final round.

This time the knock-out phase has been enhanced with the addition of the quarterfinals, which will have the top four teams from each group contesting. The players will be chiefly sourced from I-League 2, which has taken a break to allow the players to represent their states.

The two groups appear to be quite balanced with Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Goa, Assam, Services and Kerala clubbed in group A. Group B will have holder Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi, Manipur, Railways and Mizoram. This time big names, including the 32-time champion Bengal and eight-time winner Punjab, have failed to make it to the final round.

On Wednesday, matches will be held in three sessions, with Meghalaya taking on Services in the morning before Kerala meets Assam in the afternoon. Arunachal Pradesh will face a strong Goa in the last match of the day in the evening.

The group league will conclude on March 2 while the quarterfinals come up on March 4 and 5. The semifinals will be played on March 7 and the final on March 9.

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