Bengal start as favourites vs Manipur in Santosh Trophy final
Guwahati: Defending champions Bengal will be eyeing to put up a thorough professional performance against Manipur in order to retain the 65th National Football Championship for Santosh Trophy.
Santosh Trophy and Bengal have been synonymous since its inception. Bengal have won the championship a record 30 times and coach Shabbir Ali would only be too happy to guide the team to their 31st national title.
In the last edition, Bengal beat Punjab 2-0 in the final to regain the trophy after 11 years. It was Denson Devadas whose twin strikes sealed the issue for Bengal.
Both teams won their respective semi-final matches by an identical 1-0 margin. Manipur beat Services with Thoiba Singh netting the winner while Bengal rode on Budhiram Tudu`s strike against Railways to make it to the final.
Former India striker and current coach Shabbir feels that the team is peaking at the right time. Although Bengal failed to score more than a goal against Railways, the coach is happy that everyone performed their assigned roles well in the semi-final match.
"Nothing succeeds like success. We need to get our acts right. This is the final and we are here to win it," he said.
"Manipur are a good side with a perfect mix of youth and experience. But a final is all about how one hold their nerves," he added.
A lot will depend on Bengal`s two-men upfront Branco Cardozo and Budhiram.
Manipur on the other hand don`t have too many big names but the speed at which the team operates is something that will keep Bengal defence worried.
Ekendra Singh, the Manipur coach is aware of the impending challenge but at the same time isn`t willing to jump the gun at the moment.
"We have gelled well as a team and I am proud of the boys. But this is the big battle. The boys need to focus," he said.
Tikem Singh and I Nilakumar Singh--- elder brother of India international Surkumar Singh have been in sublime form for Manipur.
"The players are in good rhythm. But this is a different ball game. Against Bengal, you can`t afford to make mistakes," Ekendra added.