NEW DELHI: We are just one day away from history being made in Indian Football! The Hero Santosh Trophy, for the first time, is going to be held outside India, something that has got the nation buzzing.
The Hero Santosh Trophy is down to its business end, with the semi-finals, 3rd place match, and the final set to be held at the King Fahd International Stadium, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The action kicks off with Punjab taking on Meghalaya at 5.30 pm IST in the first semi-final, followed by the second one between Services and Karnataka at 9 pm IST.
Senior Indian National Team head coach Igor Stimac is one who will be following the progress with great excitement, as he believes that the renewed importance that the Hero Santosh Trophy has from this season onwards will help revitalise one of the most important tournaments in the Indian Football calendar.
“One of the vital points for our future is to revitalise such tournaments for the betterment of football in India. Hope Santosh Trophy becomes what it used to be,” said Stimac, speaking on Indian Football Live on Instagram. “Playing it in a foreign country is great for the teams. It’s an amazing exposure for the teams and the players to play, where many great footballers have played. I’m sure there will also be great infrastructure. The teams that have reached the semi-finals will get to witness all that, which is great.”
The Senior Men’s National Football Championship for the Hero Santosh Trophy is a rather unique tournament, where not clubs, but state teams fight it out against each other, with their squads composed only of Indian players.
“The Santosh Trophy is absolutely fundamental. Having only Indian players is exactly what any Indian coach would love to see,” said Stimac. “To have states involved in such a contest is good for everyone because we will get to see the quality of the talent available in these regions of the country.”
The Hero Santosh Trophy was one of the premier tournaments of India, studded with stars from the National Teams. In more recent times, the tournament has served as a pipeline for a number of players that have since made it through the domestic league system and even to the National Teams, with the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Manvir Singh, and Sahal Abdul Samad being just a few examples.
“It’s a very important platform for all the players to showcase their talent. It’s a tournament that they can use as a springboard in their careers as everyone will have their eyes on it. The Santosh Trophy is dear to the Indian Football community, and I wish every player involved in it the very best,” he said.
One of the specialities of the Hero Santosh Trophy this season is that King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is set to host the four matches at the business end, is a hallowed turf where greats like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema have featured over the past few weeks.
“It would be a great feeling to play on a pitch where Messi and Ronaldo have played. What bigger opportunity could you possibly ask for?”
Just a couple of weeks after the Hero Santosh Trophy, the Blue Tigers will again assemble for the Hero Tri-Nation Friendly Tournament – another historic occasion as the city of Imphal, Manipur, the first territory of Independent India, is set to host International football matches for the first time. Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic will cross swords with India in the Hero Tri-Nation Tournament.
“I thank Manipuri parents for the players they have given us. Their children are a very important part of our team. I use this opportunity to invite all of them to matches against Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan. I’m sure the players, those from Manipur in particular, will also be happy playing in their own backyard, in front of their near and dear ones,” said Stimac.
India are in the preparation stage for the AFC Asian Cup next year and playing the two teams from South-East and Central Asia will be a good start towards those efforts, feels Stimac.
“Kyrgyz Republic are obviously a better side than Myanmar. They have a young, strong and talented team. But we’ll go in with a positive mindset and we’ll try to break their defence,” said Stimac.