Santosh Trophy semifinals promise intense contests in Saudi Arabia

Raring to go: Captains Rajat Kumar (Punjab), Fullmoon Mukhim (Meghalaya), Karthik Govind Swamy (Karnataka), Bhabindra Malla Thakuri (Services) pose with the trophy. 

Raring to go: Captains Rajat Kumar (Punjab), Fullmoon Mukhim (Meghalaya), Karthik Govind Swamy (Karnataka), Bhabindra Malla Thakuri (Services) pose with the trophy. 
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Eight-time champion Punjab and six-time title winner Services lead the challenge in the two semifinals as the National men’s football championship for the Santosh Trophy finds a new locale at the King Fahd International Stadium here on Wednesday.

This is an effort from All India Football Federation to exploit its newly forged strategic partnership with the Saudi Arabia Football Federation in retrieving the competition from its present condition of ailment.

Punjab, which last won the crown beating Services in the final in Srinagar 15 years ago (2007-08), will have newcomer Meghalaya as its opposition in the first semifinal. Services, the champion of the 2018-19 season, will meet Karnataka in the other clash to reach the title round.

Having won the crown last as Mysore 54 years ago, Karnataka will be eager to reclaim its lost stature as one of the hubs of Indian football. Meghalaya, which is fast emerging as the nursery of football talents in the country, will have the opportunity to assert itself in a big way in the seniors’ domain.

Arriving a couple of days before the semifinals, the four teams had intense sessions on Tuesday at the practice facilities offered at King Fahd and Prince Faisal Stadiums. The weather seems to be just fine for a good contest at the desert kingdom as the temperature is hovering around cooler ranges, especially in the evening when both the semifinals will be held.

The coaches of the four sides exuded confidence and hoped for a good outing of their respective sides.

“I think all the four teams that have qualified for the semifinals overcame intense competition in the group-league stage of the quarterfinals. The contest in the semifinals will be interesting as all the teams are quite equal in strength,” said the Punjab coach and former India international Harjinder Singh.

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