LNTUP

West Bengal lifts the Santosh Trophy for a record 32nd time

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Bengal tigers beat arch rivals Goa in their own den.

Ninety minutes of regulation time over, 29 mins of extra time up; the two coaches are busy to decide the order of their penalty takers in the shootout when Bengal’s Ronald Singh starts a run from that left flank. He fastens and runs past a Goa defender to cross the ball on the foot of onrushing Manvir Singh and Manvir does what nobody managed to do in the 119 mins of game-a goal, a world class goal. As Goa’s net shook, Bengal sealed their record 32nd Santosh Trophy victory by the heroics of a Punjab lad!

Bengal players in jubilation, dreams finally fulfilled
Bengal players in jubilation, dreams finally fulfilled

The head to head record of these two giants of Indian football was slightly tilted towards Bengal. Previously 6 times Bengal beat their arch rivals from the Western part of the country in the Santosh Trophy Final, the last of which came back in 1996 when Goa was humbled in their own den by goals from Bhaichung Bhuttia and Basudev Mondal. 21 years rolled away but the fortunes remain unchanged!

Both Mridul Banerjee and Mateus Costa fielded the best side available in this classic clash of Indian football. The match began in an even note with both teams having their share of movements but none ending in a goal bound attack. On 23rd minute Bengal’s striker Basanta Singh netted the ball but it was ruled offside. The referee Senthil Nathan S surprisingly booked Basanta for fouling the defender while taking a shot but if it was already an offside then that booking made no sense.

In the 34th minute, Goa’s U-21 player Aaren De Silva terribly collided with a Bengal defender and made himself injured to be taken off the field for treatment. This reduced Goa down to 9 men for 3 minutes or so as Brian Mascarenhas was already out injured but the Bengal players failed to take advantage of their numerical supremacy.

On the 40th minute, Basant Singh took a long ranger only to see the ball getting sheltered in the safe hands of the Goanese custodian Bruno Colaco. Basanta and Ronald Singh’s movements and nippy runs imposed a problem on the Goa defence led by veteran Peter Carvalho but none were incisive enough to make the Scoreboard personnel toil. Goa’s Nicolau and Liston Colaco constantly imposed a threat on Bengal defence but lacked any proper finisher as the first half ended goalless.

In the second half the things did not change much and both teams had their fare share of chances but the lack of intelligence and quality in shaping moves and directing them towards completion was evident in both sides. In AIFF’S current rule no I-League player can play in Santosh Trophy and there must be 3 U-21 players in the starting line-up which ultimately results in a dipping quality.

The official team-lists submitted to the match-commissioner
The official team-lists submitted to the match-commissioner

In spite of all these there was no lack of passion on and off the field. The capacity crowd of 5,000 at the GMC Bambolim Stadium supported their own boys to the loudest of their voices.

On the 60th minute, Bengal’s captain Rana Gharami who is also the Captain of Mohammedan Sporting under Banerjee was booked for the rash challenge. In the meantime, Goa coach Mateus Costa brought George D Souza and Akeraj Martins in to bolster their attack but Bengal defence led by Gharami stood astute and invulnerable to Goa’s attack.

On the 83rd minute, Basanta Singh took a powerful goalbound shot but Bruno Colaco saved it who would later go onto win the ‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament’ award above Bengal’s Sankar Roy who has been magnificent in the tournament as well.

In the dying moments, Goa got a golden chance as one of the Goan strikers had an open net in front of him but Bengal’s Provat Lakra arrived at the spot to make a timely block and rescued his team from the potential peril. None of the teams managed to break the deadlock as the regulation time ended 0-0.

The humid weather at Goa took a toll of both set of players and as a result, the extra time saw some of the most tiring display by both teams. But as the saying goes, it takes just a moment of brilliance to change the fortune and that’s what happened in the penultimate minute of the pulsating encounter. When Manvir Singh out of nothing took his left-footed shot at the far corner of the Goa goal, Bruno Colaco had no answer. As the net shook, the whole stadium went awestruck as the goal came against the run of play and that too at the last minute. The celebrations in the Bengal bench told the whole story!

As the referee blew the final whistle, Mridul Banerjee’s men went into pandemonium so did the football fraternity of West Bengal. Bengal has won the Santosh Trophy first time since 2011 when they beat Mizoram in the final at Guwahati under the coaching of Shabbir Ali. The most successful state in the competition’s history lifted the trophy for the record 32nd time out of 71 beating their arch rivals in their own den.

Mridul Banerjee, the coach of Bengal on the shoulders of his players-a fitting tribute
Mridul Banerjee, the coach of Bengal on the shoulders of his players-a fitting tribute

Although the tournament may not attract much attention due to lack of glamour and media but Santosh Trophy is still regarded as one of the most prestigious silverwares to be won by the Indian football fraternity.

Mridul Banerjee, a thoroughly underrated coach made his team assembling the players from mainly the second tier teams of Kolkata Maidan and the released players of the big teams. But this unknown group of young boys have re-established Bengal where their seat used to be-the summit of Indian Football.

After today, some players would get offers from the big teams while some would go unnoticed and keep leading the life of a struggler. Whatever the fate has in store for them nobody knows, but they all will have one thing in common from today-a big story to tell their grandchildren.

[‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Bruno Colaco(Goa), Defender of the tournament-Provat Lakra (Bengal), Midfielder of the Tournament-Cajetan Fernandes (Goa), Striker of the Tournament: Basanta Singh(Bengal)’]