Bengal, Kerala seek final flourish in Santosh Trophy final

March 31, 2018



When the season began last November, the players who will line up for Bengal and Kerala in Sunday’s final of the 72nd Santosh Trophy weren’t on the radar.

After a World Cup so engrossing from boys who were under 17, the focus shifted to the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) and none of these players could be part of either because the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had ordained thus.

The buzz in Bengal then was all about Robbie Keane and Teddy Sheringham in an ATK whose soul wasn’t Spanish anymore, about Khalid Jamil and his men at East Bengal striving for their first I-League and whether Sanjoy Sen had lost his mojo at Mohun Bagan even with Sony Norde as their guiding star.

After a treble of disappointments, it is now up to this team to salvage something from the season.

“Over the past fortnight or so we stayed away from our families. That we are playing Kerala makes it easier to motivate the boys because we lost to them in the group league,” said Ranjan Chaudhuri, the Bengal football team coach, who missed his daughter’s school-leaving examinations for this assignment.

For Chaudhuri’s captain Jiten Murmu, Sunday could be an important step in a career that began in Purushottampur, a village where electricity is a recent phenomenon and which is a 25-minute drive from Bishnupur, some 180km from Kolkata.

For central midfielder Sanchayan Samadder, who played an important role in Friday’s semi-final, victory might help him get his life back on rails following the sudden passing of his parents.

But no one in the Bengal squad has played at the Salt Lake stadium this season and that could negate home advantage somewhat. For a team that couldn’t train together much — Chaudhuri had his full squad a day prior to starting against Manipur on March 19 because of games in the I-League second division — and has played five games in 11 days, the wider pitch could also be a cause for concern.

So it fit that Kerala football team coach Satheevan Balan didn’t think that Bengal, despite being defending champions and 32-time winners, start as favourites. “This isn’t the team that won the title. I think Bengal, Kerala and Mizoram were the teams most likely to play the final so while it will be a good game between teams that like to use the wings and play a similar style of football, we don’t start as underdogs,” he said.

Bengal have no injury worries but Balan said Anurag PC, who was injured and taken to hospital during Friday’s semi-final against Mizoram, and Sajith Poulose are doubtful starters in their bid to end a 13-year title drought.

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