Santosh Trophy: Redemption beckons Bengal, Punjab

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Bengal will take on Punjab in the finals of the Santosh Trophy at Gurgaon on Wednesday

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:37 IST
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Bengal will aim to regain their pre-eminent position in Indian football while Punjab will look to redress their near two decade drought in the national football championship when the two teams face off in the Santosh Trophy final in Gurgaon on Wednesday. It will be Bengal's 40th entry into the title round, having walked away with the trophy on an incredible 29 occasions. Considering that this is the 61st playing of the national championship, Bengal's domination of the domestic game is obvious for all to see. Prashanta Banerjee's team will go all out to get their hands on the trophy for the first time since Chennai in 1998-99, when they demolished Goa 5-0 in the final. But this Bengal team has been pieced together largely with players from Kolkata's big three who are not used to playing alongside each other. Although they have shown improvement after a scratchy start. On the other hand, Punjab have last tasted success in the championship in 1987-88 when they claimed their sixth title in Quilon defeating Kerala in the final. They have been runners-up on five other occasions but since their last success, they have reached the summit clash twice, only to be pipped at the post. But the fact that 10 of Punjab's regular starting 11 play for JCT Mills, Phagwara, may benefit Jagir Singh as co-ordination and understanding will be crucial in the big game. BSF goalkeeper Kameshwar Singh is the only exception. They also have a good record in north India. Struggling with injuries However, both teams are struggling with injuries. Punjab's Manjeet Singh, who has drawn special praise from national coach Bob Houghton, has already gone home after suffering an ankle injury. He will be out of action for two weeks and would be protecting himself for international duty later this year. But Punjab showed that they can make light of the loss of their talisman when they beat a formidable Maharashtra side in the last four. Jaswinder Singh and the young Punjab University striker Amrinder Singh will be expected to step into the breach. Baldeep Singh, their impressive playmaker is expected to start after shaking off a knock he took in the previous match while Jagir will hope Parveen Kumar can continue to find the back of the net. Their defence looks solid with Jaspal Singh, Narinder Singh, Daljit Singh and Harpreet Singh providing good cover for Kameshwar, while Bimanyu Barua, Sukhjinder Singh and Shivraj Singh would be expected to do the approach work in midfield. Bengal have problems between the goalposts as their number one custodian Sandip Nandy is out of action with a dislocated collarbone. His replacement Kalyan Choubey injured his ankle in the semi-final and is racing against time to be fit for the summit clash. Bengal had to come through the shootout with rookie Abhra Mondal. The Punjab think-tank may tell their players to test the keeper at every opportunity to extract an error out of him. However, their defence, comprising of Sanjiv Maria, Habibur Rehman Mondal, Bijoy Bisfore and Shyam Mondal, has been up to the task so far. (PTI)

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