Kolkata: Their striking force a worrying
factor, notwithstanding, Bengal will be desperate to end an
11-year title drought when they take on Punjab in the summit
clash of the 64th National Football Championship for Santosh
Trophy at Yuba Bharati Krirangan here tomorrow.
The national title has been eluding Bengal`s in the
recent past as the record 29-time champions had last won the
Santosh Trophy way back in 1998-99.
Having come close to a sniffing distance last year,
Bengal were done in the penalty shootout to settle for the
runners-up position as Goa emerged champions.
However, this time around, Bengal have already crossed
the Goan hurdle as they are eyeing their 30th title in front
of home crowd.
In the semifinal yesterday, Bengal rallied from behind to
pull off a 5-4 (1-1) win in the tie-breaker to oust their last
year`s nemesis Goa.
But with their striking ammunition in short supply, it
will not be easy for Shabbir Ali`s boys to cross the final
hurdle against a consistent Punjab coached by Jagir Singh.
Bengal`s star striker Shankar Oraon, who did not play
against Goa, has been ruled out for at least three months due
to ligament injury.
To make matters worse, Bengal`s another forward Nilendra
Dewan too is doubtful after his seventh minute injury against
Goa, a factor that troubled Ali yesterday as Tarif Ahmed and
Robin Singh struggled to combine well.
The coach will have some taxing time to find a balance in
the striking force, even as they are high on confidence after
their spectacular win.
However, But Ali said the home teams will have to look
"We have one more hurdle to cross and the boys have it in
them to make it for Bengal. We are not looking back and
basking in the glory of yesterday. We have one more hurdle to
cross," Ali said today after the morning practice session.
From Punjab`s point of view, Gurpreet Singh has picked a
double yellow and the in-form striker will miss tomorrow`s
all-important final as coach Jagir Singh has to motivate their
young and energetic side to clinch their ninth title.
In the forward line, Praveen Kumar is likely to start
with Balwant Singh and the coach said there are no favourites.
"Bachcho jaise baat mat karo (Don`t ask silly
questions)," Jagir said when asked whether they were the
"There are no favourites in a final, whoever plays well
on that particular day, will win. Bengal are a good team but
we are equally confident," he said on the eve of the match.
As a matter of fact, Bengal will have a chance to avenge
their defeat in the Santosh Trophy 2006-07 final when they
lost to Punjab in the penalty shootout.