Safneed lone new face in Kerala team for Santosh Trophy’s final phase

FOOTBALL | “We are in a tough group,” says chief coach Satheevan Balan

February 14, 2024 09:14 pm | Updated 09:14 pm IST - KOCHI

The Kerala team for the Santosh Trophy’s final phase, which was announced in Kochi on Wednesday.

The Kerala team for the Santosh Trophy’s final phase, which was announced in Kochi on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: Stan Rayan

Real Malabar FC’s 25-year-old midfielder P.P. Mohammed Safneed, who led Calicut University to the National inter-university title two years ago, is the lone new face in the Kerala football team for the Santosh Trophy’s final phase which begins in Arunachal Pradesh on February 21.

The Kerala Football Association has made three changes to the team, which played in the National championship’s preliminary phase in Goa in October. Navas Meeran, the KFA president, announced the team here on Wednesday evening.

“We had to leave out Bijesh Balan and K. Junain who are injured and have brought in Akhil J. Chandran, Gifty Gracious and Safneed,” said Satheevan Balan, the chief coach, who guided Kerala to the Santosh Trophy title in 2018.

The coach was keen on picking Sports Academy Tirur’s Muhammed Mahdi, who was adjudged the best player in the recent Kerala Premier League. But the midfielder had suffered an injury in the final and had to be ruled out.

“He would have been in the playing 11,” said Balan.

Balan feels Kerala, which is in Group ‘A’ with host Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Goa, Assam and Services, is in a tough pool.

“We are in a strong group. Since it is the host, Arunachal will have a strong team… they may even bring players from outside. Services is strong too… and as Meghalaya and Assam will be playing in almost home conditions, they will be tough too,” the chief coach told The Hindu.

“But the advantage is, four teams each from the two groups qualify for the next stage (quarterfinals) so we have to win at least two matches. It will be okay if we get a draw against some others.”

Kerala opens its campaign against Assam on February 21 and matches will be played on synthetic turf.

The squad: Goalkeepers: K. Muhammed Azhar (Mlp, Kerala Police), Sidharth Rajeevan Nair (Koz, Kerala United), P.P. Muhammed Nishad (Mlp, East Bengal FC).

Defenders: Belgin Bolster (Tvm, KSEB), G. Sanju (Ekm, Kerala Police, vice-captain), R. Shinu (Tvm, KSEB), Mohammed Salim (Ktm, KSEB), K.P. Sarath (Tsr, Sree Kerala Varma College), Nithin Madhu (Ekm, Kerala United), Akhil J. Chandran (Ekm, Gokulam Kerala), V.R. Sujith (Tsr, Sree Kerala Varma College).

Midfielders: V. Arjun (Koz, KSEB), Jithin Gopalakrishnan (Pkd, Black Horse FC), Gifty Gracious (Wyd, KSEB), P.P. Mohammed Safneed (Mlp, Real Malabar), Nijo Gilbert (Tvm, KSEB, captain), K. Abdhu Raheem (Idk, Basco), N.P. Akbar Sidhique (Mlp, Wayanad United FC).

Forwards: E. Sajeesh (Pkd, Kerala Police), S. Muhammed Ashiq (Pkd, Gokulam Kerala), B. Naresh Mlp, Muthoot FA), E.K. Riswan Ali (Knr, Kerala United).

Officials: Satheevan Balan (chief coach), P.K. Assis (assistant coach), Harshal Rahman (goalkeeper coach).

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