KOLKATA: It will be a treat for fans in the spiritual home of Indian football as hosts West Bengal and Kerala, two of the most successful teams in the history of the Santosh Trophy national football championship, go up against each other in the final of the tournament’s 72nd edition at the Yubabharati Krirangan here on Sunday.
Defending champions Bengal who overcame Goa 1-0 to win their 32nd title last season and five-time winners Kerala, whose previous title came 14 years ago at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium when they defeated Punjab through a golden goal, are both determined to get their hands on the coveted trophy this year.
But Kerala, having lost on both occasions when the two states met in a final, have to buck the trend. The teams met in finals at Guwahati in 1989 and Cuttack in 1994 and both the times it was Bengal who took the title home in penalty shootouts.
“We know the statistics. But that is not something we are concerned about. Stats have been against us since the start of the tournament. We were not fancied when we started the campaign and many doubted us to even make it past the qualifiers. But now we are in the final. We have considered every game as a final since arriving here and on Sunday, it will be the same,” said Kerala head coach Satheevan Balan.
A young Kerala side edged out favourites Mizoram 1-0 in the semifinals on Friday to strengthen their title ambitions.
“I should be happy with the progress of my boys. We have respect for Bengal but I know we are capable of winning,” said Balan whose side had beaten Bengal 1-0 in their final group game earlier.
However, with everything riding on Sunday’s fixture, Bengal are ready for revenge. “There is no pressure. The team has confidence in its ability to win the final,” said Bengal head coach Ranjan Chowdhury. “They are organised and strong defensively. Whoever wins needs to earn the trophy by playing well.”
Kerala’s attack will be spearheaded by right winger Jithin MS who has been the revelation of the tournament, but he will have his work cut out against Bengal who have conceded just two goals in the tournament so far. Meanwhile, the home side’s exploits will be led by Jitin Murmu who was on target against Karnataka in his side’s 2-0 win in the semifinals.
“We have an idea of Bengal’s strengths and weaknesses having played them earlier but we are talking of the final and it will be different,” said Balan.