Calcutta: Gone are the days when Bengal used to be the overwhelming favourites in the Santosh Trophy. The importance of the tournament seems to be declining with every edition and, along with it, Bengal’s dominance has taken a nosedive.
So, when Bengal take the field against Punjab at the Kanchenjunga Stadium, in Siliguri, on Thursday, in their opening match of the final phase of the tournament’s 68th chapter, they wouldn’t probably begin as the stronger team.
It would be more of a battle of equals.
Bengal, winners of 31 times, had last won the trophy in 2011 when they had defeated Manipur 2-1 in the final. The year before that, they had beaten Punjab by the same margin to emerge victorious.
In Bengal’s 2010 and 2011 Santosh Trophy-winning teams, the likes of Denson Devadas, Robin Singh, Abhra Mondal, Branco Cardozo and Budiram Tudu were the notable names. While they weren’t exactly star players, most of them at least played for the big clubs. But the same cannot be said this time around.
Captained by Kartik Kissku, the squad is mainly made up of players from clubs like Bhowanipore FC and Kalighat MS. It’s not that this squad can’t go all the way to claim glory, but it’s a fact that it lacks the quality of the teams that represented the state in the past.
That is the reason why Bengal coach Sisir Ghosh and technical director Biswajit Bhattacharya have a tough job on their hands. Plus, Bengal are in a difficult group which apart from Punjab, also includes Goa, Tamil Nadu and Railways.
In the qualifying round, Bengal didn’t really have a smooth ride. They won matches against Bihar and Chattisgarh, but those were hardly convincing wins.
Punjab, who are second only to Bengal in terms of Santosh Trophy titles, will be a difficult hurdle. In their first match against Goa, they exhibited superb fighting spirit to draw the match 1-1 after conceding an early goal.
Coach Sisir is aware of the challenge. “It will be a tough match… There’s no doubt about that. They showed immense fighting spirit against Goa. With better physiques, they will have an advantage over us. But then, we have done our homework. We are ready for the game,” Sishir said.