Those Goan fans who have witnessed the two Santosh Trophy finals in Goa, the first time in 1990 and the second time in 1996, would have mixed feelings. The first final had an enduring memory of Bruno Coutinho-arguably one of Goa’s greatest strikers- smashing in the opening goal to script a 2-0 win over Kerala. However six years later there were tears at Margao when Bhaichung Bhutia and Basudeb Mondal stunned the Goan crowd into silence with two goals as Goa lost to Bengal 0-2. Twenty-one years later the Santosh Trophy makes a comeback to Goa, and though Indian football has undergone a sea of change, the pride and prestige of winning the Santosh Trophy has never, for even the slightest moment, waned. For many of Indian football’s old school purists, this still remains one of the most prestigious tournaments in India. And even though this tournament has been played devoid of its best players for the last many years, there will not be an iota of doubt that the Santosh Trophy is the only tournament that sets alive the traditional Bengal-Goa rivalry in its true sense.
Goa will have the luxury of playing in front of their home fans tomorrow but that will also bring added pressure. After dominating the first half against Kerala, Goa were steamrolled in the second half and if not for a couple of good saves by Bruno Colaco and a fine performance in the heart of defence by Peter Carvalho the story could have been different. Coach Mateus Costa would have a huge decision to make whether to field Peter Carvalho in defence or in midfield if Leny Pereira passes the fitness test. The Quepem born veteran has been Goa’s best player on the pitch, fitting anywhere in the line-up whether in midfield of defence. The sidebacks look more or less certain-Nicolau Colaco and Assumption Soares both likely to get their sixth straight start. The midfield could see some tinkering with both Brian Mascarenhas and Glan Martins not looking promising enough in the previous matches though a final decision would be taken tomorrow. Goa would once again count on the young shoulders of Liston Colaco to bang in the goals. The youngster who was in fine form in the semi-final showed everyone why he is a class apart with two goals, the second being one of the goals of the tournament. Speaking before the teams final practise session at the Bambolim Sports Complex, coach Mateus Costa said that his team will put its best foot forward and try and win the Santosh trophy in front of its home fans. “ The boys have worked really hard to reach the final and I can assure you that whoever comes on the pitch will give more than their hundred per cent. We want to win the Santosh trophy in front of our home fans and we will give it our all”, he said.
For Bengal, the ride to the final has been relatively easy. They qualified with a game to spare and are still unbeaten in the tournament along with Goa. They accumulated the most points among all teams in the group stages. For Bengal coach, Mridul Bannerjee, the final though will not be easy considering the vociferous home support that the hosts would be enjoying. Goals have been a big problem for the most successful team in the tournament’s history. They have scored just four goals in their five matches so far and have relied on their strong defence to see them through in several matches. Their strikers up front have looked far from convincing but with the law of averages catching up, Mridul Bannerjee would hope that this would be the game when both his strikers fire.
Meanwhile GFA President Elvis Gomes has urged the Goan fans to come in large numbers to support Goa. “The Santosh Trophy is being held in Goa after two decades. Fans have turned up in large numbers for all of Goa’s games and I’m certain tomorrow too will be a packed house. I am counting on a huge vociferous crowd to lift our players and I am sure our boys will respond and give their best tomorrow. There cannot be a more fitting finale to this tournament than a Goa-Bengal final. A win for Goa will boost the football ecosystem in the state”
The match will kick-off at 18.00 IST (Bambolim Stadium) and will be shown live on DD Sports.