Football

Kerala and Services will be favourites

Task cut out: Tamil Nadu has to overcome mighty Kerala if it has to progress.

Task cut out: Tamil Nadu has to overcome mighty Kerala if it has to progress.  

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The tournament is not the same in the absence of high-profile players

Kerala and Services will be the favourites to progress from South Zone when the qualifiers for the 72nd Santosh Trophy commence at the Football Stadium here on Wednesday.

Services, which has won the National football championship on four of the last six occasions, has been placed alongside Telangana, Pondicherry and host Karnataka in Group A.

With only one team from each group advancing to the final round, there is little margin for error. “The Karnataka match will be decisive,” said Warrant Officer Priya Darshan, the Services coach.

“They’re the hosts and have some good players. But that doesn’t mean we will take the other teams lightly.”

Arjun Kudu, who scored a brace in the final in Nagpur two years ago, is in the squad, as is experienced midfielder Vivek Kumar. “Those are the only two players left from the side of 2016,” said Priya. “Most of the others are new.”

Karnataka has not qualified for the final round of the Santosh Trophy on its last four attempts. With matches on home soil, though, expectations are different. “It’s a good feeling as well as added pressure to perform in front of the home fans,” said coach V.K. Harish. “All teams are beatable. We are confident that we will qualify.”

Kerala, which lost in the semifinals last year, will have to contend with Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in Group B, with Andaman and Nicobar having pulled out of the competition.

Young players

“We expect to qualify from our pool,” said Kerala coach Satheevan Balan. “We have concentrated on selecting young players this time. We have many new faces. We also have the experience of Rahul Raj (captain), V. Midhun and S. Seesan (vice-captain).”

Tamil Nadu is aware it will have to overcome the might of Kerala in order to progress. “We want to give Kerala a good fight in our group. But we cannot underestimate Andhra Pradesh either. I feel Ajith Kumar and Mohammed Shahid, both of whom are u-21 players, are going to leave a mark on this tournament.”

In the absence of high-profile players, the Santosh Trophy may not be what it once was, but Balan, a former India u-13 coach, felt the tournament was still relevant. “It is the only competition where you can play for your State,” he said.

“If you play the Santosh Trophy, the certificate is valuable in finding employment later. So it is of great importance to youngsters.”

The teams: Group A: Karnataka, Telangana, Services, Pondicherry.

Group B: Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu.

Wednesday’ matches: Karnataka vs Telangana (1.15 p.m.); Services vs Pondicherry (4 p.m.).

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 8:49:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/kerala-and-services-will-be-favourites/article22451459.ece

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