A full squad to choose from, fresh legs raring to go and almost a month’s preparation time! What more can a team ask for before heading into a tournament, that too for the final stages?
Defending champions Services can tick all the above mentioned boxes ahead of their first Group A quarterfinal encounter against Railways in the 67th edition of the Santosh Trophy. The other two members in their Group are Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.
Speaking to AIFF Media, Coach Sajith Kumar, the man under whom Services won the coveted crown last year, said: “We have a full strength squad at our disposal. Gordon (Zormachane) and Sandu (Subba) are missing due to injuries but otherwise everyone is fit. The players are fresh and we had an excellent Preparatory Camp for 25 days prior to coming here.”
Services have so far won two Santosh Trophy titles – if the first happened way back in 1961 in Kozhikode, the second crown came last, in 2011 in Cuttack.
Sajith added: “But at the same time we have to remember that nothing comes easy at this stage of the competition. We have been clubbed in a very tough group, especially with Railways. The first match will be very crucial in determining our fate. We have to win it in order to progress to the semifinals.”
Kumar made no secret about the fact that for his side, the Santosh Trophy stays the main tournament and they prepare for it throughout the year. “Though we had a 25-day camp before the quarterfinal stage, I would be candid enough to admit that the Santosh Trophy stays the main focus for us. We look forward to it throughout the year. The boys feel this is the only opportunity for them to make a mark,” he pronounced.
Is there any pressure of being the defending champions? “It was indeed euphoric last time round. Our confidence level scaled heights and we are still carrying it. I would not say that we are basking in the glory but the boys are upbeat and they don’t feel any sort of pressure. They want to hit the greens and continue from where they left last year.”
That certainly won’t be music to the ears of all other rival coaches.
(AIFF Press Release)