After 12 rigorous days, Punjab and Services are set to lock horns in the final of the national football championship for the Santosh Trophy in Ludhiana on Sunday. Being the home side, Punjab has enjoyed the support of the local fans, something that propelled them to gain the last-gasp win in their previous two games against Karnataka in Group B and against Goa in the semi-final. “Of course, playing in our home ground brings its own advantages. We will have the support of the local people behind us which gives a lot of motivation to the players,” said Punjab assistant coach Bikramjit Singh on the eve of the match.
Services head coach Parshuram Salwadi echoed Bikramjit’s feelings, saying that having a packed stadium behind them would be a key advantage for Punjab. “Playing a team like Punjab will be very tough in the Final, especially with the home support. We faced them in 2015, but it will be different this time as they are the home team. This is their biggest strength,” said Salwadi. The two teams had previously faced off in the final four years back in the 2014-15 season, a match that also incidentally took place at the same venue. While the match itself remained goalless, Services triumphed in penalties by a 5-4 margin.
“We have more flair than them. We’ve already beaten them on a few occasions before. But we need to be careful. They have also beaten us in the 2014-15 Santosh Trophy Final, so we cannot take them lightly,” said Bikramjit. “They have very good coordination in attack. We brought the whole team to the stadium to watch their semifinal against Karnataka and explained to them how they generate their attacks. So we have made our plans for them accordingly,” he continued.
Services have been one of the most consistent sides in the Final Round of the 2018-19 Hero Santosh Trophy so far; they have been unbeaten in their five matches thus far, netting 11 while conceding just three. “Definitely, our defence has done really well. We have seen that our team can score at any time. But if we stay strong defensively, it will give our attackers that platform to go on and do well,” added Salwadi.
“Having said that, we have also scored 11 goals so far, so we will definitely not hold back. So, you can’t say that we are a defensive side.” Punjab will be at a slight disadvantage with regards to player availability as their young right-back Chetan Kumar has been ruled out due to a knee injury which he suffered while going for a tackle in their semi-final against Goa.
However, with the home advantage behind Punjab’s back, anything could be possible in the high-intensity final.