Santosh Trophy knockouts in Saudi draws mixed response

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has taken this step with an aim to restore the glory of past football competitions of India…reports Asian Lite News

For the first time in the history of Indian football, the semifinals and final of 76th Santosh Trophy — the national football championship — will be held outside India, at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from March 1-4.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF), under the stewardship of its President Kalyan Chaubey, has taken this step with an aim to restore the glory of past football competitions of India, which will in turn motivate the upcoming players by providing them with more game-time.

Four teams — Punjab, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Services — have qualified for the semifinals of Santosh Trophy.

IANS spoke to the coaches and former players to know how this step of AIFF will benefit Indian football.

Khlain Syiemlieh, the coach of Meghalaya which created history by entering the semifinals of the coveted trophy for the first time, is upbeat of the prospects of playing in Saudi Arabia.

He feels the move will motivate the players immensely, while the prospect of playing abroad will also work as an incentive for the upcoming generation of footballers.

“Playing abroad in different conditions will provide great exposure to the players. It will also motivate the youngsters which in turn will benefit Indian football,” Syiemlieh told IANS.

However, former India goalkeeper Subrata Paul prefers to adopt a wait and watch policy on this count.

“It is very difficult to say anything at the moment. This is the first time that the knockout matches of a domestic tournament are going to be played abroad. So till the time we witness the outcome, it’s not easy to give feedback. This is a new beginning and one can comment only after the tournament is over,” Paul said.

“Those who planned this must be having some vision. The understanding between the two football federations (India and Saudi Arabia) are not known to us. But there must be some understanding which will benefit both the countries,” Paul added.

Punjab coach Hardeep Saini told IANS that this is the brainchild of Kalyan Chaubey and his team in the AIFF.

“Playing abroad will be a motivating factor for the young players. It will also enhance the importance of Santosh Trophy, which is losing its sheen in India because of the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League. Earlier, players knew that if they can perform well in Santosh Trophy, they will get offers from big clubs. If the past glory of Santosh Trophy is restored, the players will also come under the limelight,” Saini said.

Santosh Trophy: Punjab, Karnataka seal Riyadh spots, defending champions Kerala knocked out. (credit: AIFF)

He added that many players don’t get any foreign exposure, so holding Santosh Trophy on foreign soil will give those players the much-needed exposure.

“Hence I feel that Indian football is going to benefit from this move,” Saini said.

However, former India midfielder Mehtab Hossain doesn’t seem to buy the idea of holding Sanotsh Trophy matches overseas.

“The AIFF may be trying to motivate the players and enhance the importance of Santosh Trophy by hosting the knockout matches in Riyadh. But I feel the matches should have been hosted somewhere in India where people would have thronged the stadium to watch live action, for example in Kerala. Nothing can motivate the players more than playing in front of fans in a packed stadium, which is unlikely to happen in Saudi Arabia,” Mehtab told IANS.

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