The 70th edition of Santosh Trophy â€” one of India's oldest football tournaments featuring teams representing the states and government institutions â€” has thrown up the final four teams who will be competing for the major title this year.
After a strongly-contested set of group games, the top two teams from each group have made it to the final four. While defending Santosh Trophy champions Services and Maharashtra qualified from Group A, Tamil Nadu and Goa sealed the qualification from Group B.
Group A comprised Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir and Railways apart from Maharashtra and Services, while Group B comprised West Bengal, Punjab and Assam, besides Tamil Nadu and Goa.
Services topped Group A after bagging three wins and a loss from their four league games â€” the same as Maharashtra. However, the former had a better head-to-head record.
Services boast of key players like Arjun Tudu and Zain P, who were a part of the list of probables in National team squad prior to the SAFF Cup 2015. "Experience always helps. Such players can play safe whenever required. But we are from the Army and we will go out and fight," Services coach Shaji SP was quoted by the AIFF.
Services play Goa in the Santosh Trophy 2016 semi final 1. "Goa are a good side who boast of several players [like Francis Fernandes, Peter Carvalho, Rowilson Rodrigues and Laxmikant Kattimani] who have played both in the I-League and the ISL. But we will go for the kill," Shaji added.
Goa coach Alfred Fernandes, meanwhile, mentioned that it is not always an experience that win games but determination. "Experience doesn't win you matches. Hopefully our players will go out and perform on the field," the Goan coach said.
In the second semi final, Tamil Nadu take on Maharashtra. The South Indian state thrashed Punjab 5-0 to lead the Group B table with three wins and a loss from their four group games.
"I feel we are peaking at the right moment and it's very significant for us," Robin Charles Raj, Tamil Nadu coach, said. "The guys from the local leagues need the recognition and the motivation to do well.
"There's a huge lot of talent in the State and if they are to make it big, we need to achieve this," he added.
Maharashtra coach Augusto D'Silva meanwhile has said that although Tamil Nadu look the stronger side going by their recent form, his army won't back down from producing a fight.
"We respect Tamil Nadu as opponents. They are a strong side. But we don't fear them," D'Silva said. "We are a young side and the players are tactically very sound."
Santosh Trophy 2016 semi finals schedule:
|Date||Team A||Team B||Venue|
|March 11||Tamil Nadu||v||Maharashtra||SEC Railway Stadium, Nagpur|
|March 11||Services||v||Goa||SEC Railway Stadium, Nagpur|