KOZHIKODE : The matter of who qualifies for the finals of the 71st Santosh Trophy from Group B will hinge on the result of Tamil Nadu versus Services game to be played at the EMS Corporation Stadium here on Tuesday. Leading Tamil Nadu from the front will be their in-form captain A Raegan.
Raegan, missing out in his side’s 2-0 win over Lakshadweep in the opening game, returned to the first 11 against Telangana on Sunday and capped off a game-winning display with a hat-trick scored in the 15th, 23rd and 79th minutes.
With six points from two games, Tamil Nadu have set up a winner-takes-it-all clash against the very formidable reigning champions who have once again hit a rich vein of form, winning four out of the last five editions of the prestigious national football championship.
“I couldn’t report back in time for the opener after playing department matches at Hyderabad,” said Raegan who plays for AG’s Office, Chennai. “But it was sweet to put that disappointment behind by scoring a few important goals for my team,” he said.
Though having only reported on the day of Tamil Nadu’s game against Lakshadweep, Raegan feels he is in a better shape than he was last time around. “Last season, I was not fully fit, but I feel great at the moment and is scoring goals,” he said.
Twenty-nine years of age, this is the first time that the forward from Thoothoor is leading the state after vice-captaining them for two Santosh Trophies. “It is a great honour, but we have to do better this time after going down to an unfortunate own goal in the semifinals last year,” Raegan said.
In his seventh consecutive Santosh Trophy, Raegan feels the first goal in the group-deciding game will be crucial. “We know Services are a better team than us. There is no denying it. But we will attack from the start and the first goal will be very, very important,” he said.
Raegan began his career at Thoothoor-based Netaji Sports Club and was part of the U-16 Indian camp ahead of AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers during the early days of his career. He then played for the Madras Sporting Union before moving to AG’s three years back via ICF and Income Tax Department.
“Santosh Trophy has got a lot more interesting with the introduction of the U-21 players rule. I think we have a mix of experience and youth in the side and we can go a long way this year,” said Raegan. His team will be sending out a strong message if they can progress on Tuesday at the cost of the defending champions.