The semi-finals and final of the 76th National Football Championship for the Hero Santosh Trophy, to be held abroad for the first time ever, are set to take place between March 1 and March 4 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, it was announced on Thursday.
The AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran, along with Avijit Paul, Executive Committee Member, AIFF, and Joint Secretary, Football Association of Odisha, addressed the local media in Bhubaneswar on the eve of the launch of the Santosh Trophy.
Prabhakaran informed the gathering that it was decided in a meeting between the AIFF and the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) earlier in the day that the iconic King Fahd International Stadium will play host to the semi-finals and finals of the Hero Santosh Trophy. The timings of the aforementioned matches will be announced at a later date.
“This is a great moment for Indian Football, as the four states that make it to the semifinals will get to fight for the Santosh Trophy title in Saudi Arabia. I would like to convey my sincere thanks to the SAFF for all their help and cooperation in helping us achieve this vision of taking the Hero Santosh Trophy to a next level,” said Dr Prabhakaran.
“I would also like to profusely thank the Government of Odisha for extending their massive and continuing support in hosting the 12 teams in the Final Rounds of the Hero Santosh Trophy. The Government of Odisha has been extremely supportive in the development of sports and its infrastructure in the state, and football is one of the many beneficiaries of it,” he added.
The Secretary-General pointed out that this would make the Final Round, beginning on Friday here in Bhubaneswar, an even more interesting and competitive event.
“The battle for the last four is likely to be an intense one, and we all hope that the fight will go down to the wire to book a spot on the international stage, which will be the first time since 1941 when the Santosh Trophy was launched as a six-venue tournament with the final being played in Kolkata,” said Prabhakaran.
“The Santosh Trophy is central to our plans in the development of football across the country, as we look to improve the conditions for all our State FAs to make bigger contributions in taking Indian Football forward. Helping out Member Associations is central to our plans for long-term growth, as we have charted out last month in Vision 2047, and these are just baby steps towards a much larger goal,” he said.
The Secretary-General also spoke at length about the development of football across the country, something that was presented by the Federation in Vision 2047, earlier this year.
“If you go through the Strategic Roadmap, we aim to improve both our men’s and women’s teams in the coming years, but that improvement does not happen with the click of a button. There are carefully charted out steps that we must follow in order to achieve our goals,” said Dr Prabhakaran. “We are also getting a lot of support from the Central and various State Governments, and we are extremely thankful for it.”
AIFF Executive Committee Member and FAO Joint Secretary Avijit Paul lauded the Federation for the changes it has brought about in Indian Football and the way it is working towards an overall improvement in a strategic manner.
“The AIFF has hugely changed in the way it has been working in recent times. Previously, we, the state teams used to play only a couple of matches and then just go back, if we did not qualify for the Santosh Trophy Final Rounds. Now, however, everyone is getting a substantial number of games, and that is the way forward. President Kalyan Chaubey and Secretary-General Prabhakaran have also been closely looking into the development of football across various parts of the country, something that was not seen before,” said Paul.
The Federation Secretary General further expressed interest in increasing Indian Football’s collaboration with Odisha.
“We are very serious about a collaboration with Odisha as a key partner in our projects. Football is among the top 2 sports in Odisha, and we need to further grow it here,” he said.
The Final Rounds of the Hero Santosh Trophy are set to get underway in Bhubaneswar, Odisha from February 10-20. Twelve teams have been divided into two groups of six each into the Final Rounds, and will play each other in a round-robin format; the top two teams from each group will have the honour of being the first teams in the Hero Santosh Trophy to play on foreign soil, once they move to Riyadh for the semifinals and final. (ANI)