Bhubaneswar: It will be a battle of nerves between highly experienced Services and young Tamil Nadu in the final of the 66th Senior National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy at the Barabati Stadium here on Monday.
The absence of I-League stars was also the reason for which traditional superpowers such as 31-time champions Bengal, Goa, Punjab and Kerala fell by wayside, while teams not having I-League clubs or India caps made it to the final clash.
As regards the final, every football lover in Odisha is giving Services an edge over Tamil Nadu. They are an unpredictable outfit and are capable of beating the best, says former India international and Odisha coach R P Singh, under whose guidance the host state performed well before missing a berth in the semifinals narrowly.
Discipline, proper coordination and aggressive approach have been the strengths of the Services side, which, however, struggled in the semifinals against Kerala before winning 2-1.
Earlier, in a quarterfinal league match, host Odisha gave Services a scare before settling with a draw.
But Services coach V Sajith Kumar maintains that a final is a final and they will stick to the strategy and go all out from the start.
Though Tamil Nadu looks an organised side, we intend to attack and regain the Santosh Trophy, he says.
The coach, however, admitted that they would miss the services of goalkeeper Nanao Singh, who has been left out after a double booking.
On the other hand, Tamil Nadu too are keen to regain the coveted trophy after a gap of 40 years. According to coach Syed Sabir Pasha, a former India international, youthful exuberance has been the hallmark of the Tamil Nadu team.
The average age of our side stays 24 and for 85 percent of our boys, this is their first major championship. We have prepared well and are eager to win the title here, he says.
According to R P Singh, Tamil Nadu can upset the applecart of Services if they stick to their game-plan, which revolves around strong defence and swift counter attack.
In the semifinals against Manipur, the strategy worked wonders and Tamil Nadu came out with a 2-0 convincing win, recalls RP, an India teammate of Pasha.
Tamil Nadu, of course, will miss the services of their two key players who were showed red cards in a violent quarterfinal league clash against Mizoram. But team manager I K Unni belives that they have enough bench-strength to overcome the problem. ``We still have a good number of solid performers including Jay Kumar.
The morale of the team is high and we are looking forward to win the trophy, he claims.
Santosh Trophy, which served as the premier National football championship of the India since1941, may have been reduced to a second-grade competition since the introduction of I-League. But the splendid way Football Association of Odisha (FAO) hosted it, one believes the National championship will regain some of its glamour and fan-following.
For the record, this is Tamil Nadu’s second entry to the final, the earlier one being forty years back.
For Services, who have been Champions in 1960-61, the last entry to final was in 2007-08.