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After more than two decades, Goa to host Santosh Trophy

Panaji: The Goa Football Association appears to be back on friendly terms with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) as it gears to host the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy for the first time in more than two decades.Goa last hosted the Santosh Trophy in 1996, losing the final against arch-rivals Bengal at a packed Nehru Stadium in Fatorda. Since then, for some strange reason, Goa has never hosted the final round of the Santosh Trophy.Not anymore.The GFA has confirmed that they will keep hostilities aside and host the final round of this edition starting March 12 at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco and GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim. The final is scheduled for March 25 at Bambolim, almost certainly under floodlights.Goa will play Meghalaya in the opener on March 12.
The hosts have been placed in group A alongside defending champions Services, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Chandigarh, while group B consists of Kerala, Maharasthtra, Mizoram, Railways and Punjab.”We have confirmed with the Sports Authority of Goa (SAG) that they will make the grounds available to us,” said a senior GFA official.The GFA were worried that neither of the two venues they were looking at would be available for the tournament but SAG executive director VM Prabhudesai told a GFA delegation on Tuesday that they have nothing to fear.”We will ensure that they get our support. The Santosh Trophy is a historic tournament,” said Prabhudesai.
Goa, coached by Mateus Costa, had a smooth run in the zonal qualifiers, winning both their matches but with several players now opting to don colours for teams in the I-League, or Second Division I-League, the GFA has been forced to find replacements for players like Fulgancio Cardozo, Richard Costa (Churchill Brothers), Ponif Vaz (Fateh, Hyderabad), Melvin Lobo (Khandoba Talhim, Kolhapur) and Assumption Soares. According to sources, the players could be replaced by Sporting Clube midfielders Cajetan Fernandes, Glan Martins, Salgaocar FC defender Nicolau Colaco and Dempo’s junior international Hayden Fernandes.”Our aim is clear. We have to win the Santosh Trophy. Since three of our teams pulled out of the I-League, we have enough quality players in our ranks to emerge as the best. Last season was disappointing as we lost in the semifinals but this time around, playing at home, we should be the favourites,” said the GFA official.
Goa lost in the semifinals last year with an own goal in extra time against eventual winners Services. But with the tournament – which has lost its lustre now with top players excluded — returning to Goa, the hosts should at least make it to the last four, just like the three editions Goa hosted in the past.The Santosh Trophy was staged in Goa first in 1972 when Bernard Pereira missed a spot-kick and Bengal qualified for the final. In 1990, the Santosh Trophy returned to Goa but this time the AIFF experimented with an under-23 format. Goa, however, proved too good for the rest, despite an unexpected loss against Madhya Pradesh in an inconsequential zonal qualifier.In the final, Goa rode on goals from Bruno Coutinho and Thomas Kushboo to set aside the challenge of Kerala 2-0 but could not keep the trophy at home when hosting the tournament for the third time in 1996. Instead, it were arch-rivals Bengal who walked away with the top honours as they set aside Goa’s challenge 2-0 with goals from Abdul Khalique and Bhaichung Bhutia.Goa last won the Santosh Trophy in 2009 after defeating Bengal 4-2 via the tiebreaker in Chennai. Goalkeeper Felix D’Souza did not concede a single goal – apart from the tiebreaker – just like his hero Brahmanand Shankhwalkar at the 1983 edition in Calcutta, now Kolkata, when Goa shared the trophy with hosts Bengal after two days of intense battle failed to break the deadlock. [TOI]

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