Imphal: Kerala coach M. Peethambaran just could not accept the reality. “How does the ball stay lodged in the netting if it had gone in'” he queried. He was shown the television replay, he was shown the netting.
Slowly he cooled down. It came to him. Manipur had earned their first ever national soccer title in its 58th edition and in Manipur’s first ever entry into the final.
He slowly accepted the fact that Kerala’s 11th entry wasn’t really the best.
“We did play badly today, the defence particularly failed to live up to my expectations,” he said. “And, yes, there were some glaring defensive lapses. We did try to come back in the second half, but I guess the players were just not geared to this attacking Manipur.”
Manipur coach Ch. Shantikumar Sigh could not keep that grin off his face. “What had I told you' This will be our day, that this will be the moment of history,” he blurted out.
“I am happy, and more happy for the kids.” Shantikumar, an employee with the state department of sports and youth affairs has been promised a “deserving promotion”.
“I was sure that my boys would be playing their hearts out today, and they did. Look, this was the only opportunity for Manipur to show themselves to the country.
“We have done something that has now showcased the entire footballing scenario of Manipur to the country. Now I believe there will be big changes,” said the Manipur coach, wiping tears, emotional that he is.
Tomba Singh, the golden goal man, said: “I wasn’t sure if I would get the target, I just took a shot and I saw the ball kiss the goalkeeper’s palm and go into the netting. I never had any doubt as to whether the goal was genuine.”
Meanwhile, Manipur not only lifted the 58th national football championship for the LG Santosh Trophy here Tuesday, they also picked up most of the individual awards.
James Singh was declared the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament. Bijen Singh ended up as the highest scorer (nine goals), Noren Singh was named the Best Goalkeeper, and Tomba Singh, who got the golden goal in the final versus Kerala, was named the Most Valuable Player of the Final.
All of them got prizes ranging from television sets to refrigerators from LG, the sponsors.
Interestingly, Goa, a team from which there has been a good number of suspensions, got the Fairplay Award. The winners, apart from the glittering Santosh Trophy, a cup instituted by the erstwhile Maharaja of Santosh, Mahendra Chowdhury (estate now in Bangladesh), also got a purse of Rs 3 lakh.
Manipur had already got Rs 1 lakh from the governor of Manipur, Ved Marwah, for having made their maiden entry into the final. Kerala got a purse of Rs 1.5 lakh as runners-up.
n Match report on Page 19