The 78th edition of the all-important yet underrated Santosh trophy will kickoff in March this year. The Qualification for the national level tournament has already started and teams have been divided into 5 groups on a zonal basis. The 10 qualified teams will play the group and knock out round-robin format which is most likely to be held at the Transstadia Ahmadabad.
West Bengal is the defending champions as they overcame Goa deep in extra time in the last season to lift the title for the 32nd time. Goa once again looks to be the most formidable team and are favourites to clinch the title this time around. The veteran Armando Colaco has been summoned with the duty of taking over the team.
In the West zone, Gujarat and Rajasthan played out a thrilling 5-5 draw while Maharashtra thrashed Daman and Diu 7-0. Madhya Pradesh was no match Lakshadweep as they were outdone 0-5 by the Islanders. Goa showed why they are a title contender this season with 14-0 Mammoth victory over Rajasthan. The Goans will be a team to watch out with legendary Indian coach Armando Colaco at the helms.
In the North Eastern zone, Assam edged out Arunachal 1-0 while Manipur won comfortably 3-0 against Tripura. The Northeast region of India is competitive and it produces some of the best football qualification rounds.
The positive that could be drawn from the Qualifiers so far is the crowd response for the West zone matches Which were held in Ahmedabad.
This coveted tournament has been slowly losing its shine over the years. Once upon a time tournaments like this, Rovers Cup, IFA Shield used to have a lot of importance and saw huge crowds. Sadly, that has not been the case in recent years. Players like IM Vijayan and Jo Paul Andheri used to light up the tournament to the Kerala fans delight. Even the Qualification for the Melbourne Olympics and other international matches used to happen based on the performance in the Santosh Trophy. But now, it’s a whole different story as the average age of the squad is just 22. All the best players from the respective states play their trade in one of the top two leagues or in any of the few state Leagues in India. Even the players who were a part of the Santosh trophy last season aren’t available due to 20 teams playing simultaneously. It’s become more of a junior tournament than a display of the best of Indian football