BHUBANESWAR: One of the key facets of the 76th National Football Championship for the Hero Santosh Trophy has been its revamped format and improved facilities, which has garnered praise from coaches and players alike. The new format has seen every team that has reached the Final Round play at least 10 games through the group stage and in Odisha.

For young players, the increased match time has been a blessing, a chance to get some time under their boots. Karnataka winger Jacob Kattookaren, who has played professionally only in the state leagues, says the games helped the team and individuals within grow.

“Training is important,” he said. “But nothing can replace the feeling of a game. It helps improve decision making and enhances our skills.”

Services coach MG Ramachandran, whose team had direct entry into the Final Round, said that having watched other teams play the Group Stage, they ramped up their own preparations to stay ready.

“We played friendlies, even played against Karnataka and were training regularly with an eye on how well the other teams were doing,” he said.

In addition to the format, the Services coach was also keen to highlight the organisation of the tournament itself.

“Everything, from our stay to the transport have seen an improvement,” he said. Unlike previous years, the teams have travelled in much more comfort to play the Hero Santosh Trophy. Most are staying in the expansive KIIT campus, and others have been put up in hotels across the city within close proximity to the venue.

“Small things like these make a huge difference,” Ramachandran said. “It improves team morale, sure, but also creates within players a desire to play better and will even inspire youngsters. There is a professional attitude towards the conduct of this tournament that is a welcome change.”


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