Calcutta: With no outstation players available, it’s a golden opportunity for the sons of the soil to prove their worth in the Santosh Trophy. With the Bengal team leaving Friday for Imphal, that was the point chief coach Subrata Bhattacharya harped on.
“We have won the Santosh Trophy 29 times, but generally the accolades had been reserved for the outstation players. This is your opportunity to prove the critics wrong,” Subrata said in a pep-talk to the players after their final practice session in the Mohun Bagan ground on Thursday.
However, the chief coach, along with Dulal Biswas and Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, will join the team from the quarter final stage (as they will be touring Maldives with Mohun Bagan for Mohun Bagan’s AFC Champions League second-round qualifier). Two India under-20 players, Rahim Nabi and Ashim Biswas, will also join the squad once they return from Qatar, where they are playing the AFC under-20 meet.
In the group phase, Bengal will be under the supervision of assistant coach Sishir Ghosh. Talking to The Telegraph, Sishir said: “We are placed in an relatively easy group and I don’t think the unavailability of the top players will be too much of a worry.” Bengal have been clubbed with Rajsthan and Jammu Kashmir in the group stage.
The former India international, however, didn’t want to make any predictions about Bengal’s chances in the tournament. “We’ll go and think of it one match after another. If we clear the group-stages, we will face the winner of the group consisting of Assam, Pondicherry and Bihar in the quarter final. From then on, it’ll be sudden death.”
“We practised together for quite sometime and the team does look in good groove,” he added.
Incidentally, the Bengal squad played a friendly match against Mohun Bagan on Thursday. The match was drawn 1-1, Amar Pyne scoring for Bengal and Basudeb Mondal equalising for Bagan.
Clarification: Syed Nayeemuddin hasn’t yet been offered the post of the head of the AIFF’s youth development programme.