Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, May 11: The Santosh Trophy national football tournament started at four different venues across the state today. Odisha is hosting the national-level tournament after 18 years.
Sixty matches will be played at Bargarh, Sambalpur, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
Thirty-four teams from all over the country are participating in the football championship that includes 32 state teams and the teams of Services and the Indian Railways.
Today, the Bhubaneswar Kalinga Stadium hosted two matches — Nagaland vs Karnataka and Bihar vs Uttar Pradesh. Barabati Stadium in Cuttack hosted the Kerala vs Tripura match and Maharashtra vs Arunachal Pradesh match. Jharkhand vs Andaman and Delhi vs Gujarat matches were played in Samabalpur. Bargarh was host to Chandigarh vs Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya vs Pondicherry matches.
Out of 34 teams, 25 have been placed in seven clusters to play knockout matches. Last year’s eight quarterfinalist teams and Odisha (being the host) have been directly placed in the quarter final, said organising secretary Sanjay Behera.
According to Behera, Santosh Trophy started in 1941 and Odisha had successfully hosted the championship thrice in 1967, 1981 and in 1994.
Under the captaincy of Deba Singh, Odisha had reached the semi finals of the prestigious tournament in 1967, while his son and current coach Rajendra Prasad Singh captained Odisha in 1994, the second time when the team reached semi finals.
“Our boys have been practicing very hard for the last two months. There will definitely be tough competition, especially from Services, Railways and Bengal teams. But we will aim to reach at least the semi finals,” said Odisha coach Singh.
The All-India Football Federation has decided to give a cash award of Rs 5 lakh to the champion team and Rs 3 lakh for the runners up. No I-league players will be allowed to participate in the national championship in a bid to encourage other players from various states.
Football Association of Odisha (FAO) and All India Football Federation (AIFF) have made elaborate arrangements to conduct the national football tournament.
The footfall at Barabati Stadium in Cuttack spoke of the craze for football among the spectators.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to watch matches of all state teams of India. I am really looking forward to last time champion Bengal’s matches and of course the state team’s,” said Amiya Mohanty, a football fan.