ANI Photo | Karnataka hope to put five decades of Santosh Trophy disappointment behind in Riyadh

Playing to one’s full potential is something that all teams aspire to do. Sweat, toil, hard work and pain are just some of the requisite ingredients for that recipe. Karnataka, who finished second in Group A to make it to the semi-finals, may not have had the best of preparations, but now are looking to hit their peak towards end of the competition.
“We didn’t have much time to prepare during the group stage, and so the team didn’t really have a chance to gel and play as a unit,” All India Football Federation (AIFF) quoted Karnataka coach Ravi Babu Raju as saying. The answer was in response to how Karnataka raised the level of their game in the Final Round of the 76th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy held in Bhubaneswar.
Santosh Trophy’s semi-finals and final are set to be hosted abroad for the first time – in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Babu Raju’s team lost to Delhi in the final game of the group stage and got through to the Final Round as one of the best second-placed teams in the competition. In Odisha though, there was no scope of a slipup, and Karnataka ensured there were none.
Captain Karthik Govind Swamy, a senior member of the squad and a player with a lot of professional experience (having played for Churchill Brothers and Chennai City FC in the I-League), said the time spent together in camp after the group stages helped them become a stronger unit.

Karnataka started the Final Round with a come-from-behind draw against Punjab. Two goals down with ten minutes to play, Karnataka’s gritty unit clawed back to secure a point — the equaliser coming deep in injury time. This never-say-die attitude became a team trait. Karnataka were a team tough to break down, but even tougher to keep down. A win against Kerala — one which shocked many but not those within the team — and a clinical demolition of Goa, set them up as contenders for a knockout spot. And then came a big game against Maharashtra. If Karnataka could avoid defeat, they’d have one foot firmly in the knockouts.
Govind Swamy was suspended for that game, and the lack of experience in midfield showed immediately, as Karnataka went down by a goal, clawed level and then quickly conceded two more. The result would’ve thrown the group wide open, and yet Karnataka’s youngsters refused to back down. Urged by Govind Swamy, sitting in the stands, they fell forward in numbers and got the equaliser in the 11th minute of injury time with practically the last kick of the game. It was a performance that showed desire and serious attitude within a young team.
“There are a lot of young players in the squad. Jacob [Kattookaren, Robin [Yadav], Shelton [Paul], Ankith are all very young and will learn a lot from this tournament. In fact, that is the beauty of the Santosh Trophy. I always say this to them. It gives young players a platform to prove their worth, get scouted and maybe land professional contracts. For us older players, it’s helpful to get jobs, and secure some form of employment,” he said.
Babu Raju acknowledges that while the results have been good, there’s a lot of improvement needed if they want to get their hands on the trophy. “Playing in Saudi Arabia will be a new experience for a lot of these boys,” he said. “It’s obviously a great initiative, and shows that the Federation wants to restore this tournament’s rightful place in Indian Football. For these players, playing there will put eyeballs on them, and create some buzz. Maybe they can take the next step in their careers too.”
Govind Swamy, who has played the Santosh Trophy for Karnataka in 2016 and in 2017, said that within the player group there is considerable excitement over travelling to Riyadh. “But, and I’m not diminishing anything by saying this, the real focus is on winning the trophy. Karnataka has not won the Santosh Trophy in 54 years. That’s what we want to do. Everything else is just a plus.” (ANI)

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