Santosh Trophy final: Punjab, Kerala to clash

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The flair of Kerala footballers will face a stiff test against the might of Punjab players when the two clash at the Santosh Trophy final.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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New Delhi:

The flair of Kerala footballers will face a stiff test against the might of Punjab players when the two former champions clash to regain the 59th Santosh Trophy at the Ambedkar Stadium here tomorrow. The two teams are the most successful states in the history of the National Football Championship behind 29-time winners Bengal. Punjab has won the title six times, last in Kollam, Kerala in '87-88 and Kerala emerging triumphant on four occasions including in Mumbai in 2000-01. Kerala lived upto its billing after getting a direct seeding into the quarterfinals overcoming Services 2-0 in the semis. And Punjab came up through the qualifiers and progressed to the title clash upsetting defending champions Manipur via tibreaker in the second semifinal yesterday. Might vs Flair Both Punjab and Kerala boast of skill in their strike force, quality defence and highly impressive goalkeepers in Kameshwar Singh and M V Nelson, who first went in as a stop gap measure before cementing his place with some superb show. Kerala coach M Peethambaran has his own share of trouble with roving winger N P Pradeep forced to sit out after getting the marching orders against Services. "Titanium player K Sameer has a chance to take Pradeep's slot but we have players to back up each and every position," Peethambaran said. Asked about tomorrow's final, Peethambaran said Kerala will counter Punjab's power game with skill. "They make more use of the aerial balls and our ploy would be to counter their power game with skill," Peethambaran said. Coach happy The coach was happy with the form of his wards and took heart from their impressive performance against Services who were out to take revenge for the semifinal defeat in Imphal in 2002. "It was a really good performance against Services who were one of the fittest teams. But our players troubled them playing both attacking and defensive game," he said referring to in-form Abdul Basheer, Abdul Hakkeem, Shabeer Ali and Lenal Thomas. "We do alter our game from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 to give more bite to the attack." Punjab, whose squad comprises mainly of JCT Mills players, also have in their ranks players from BSF and Punjab Police besides one Keralite -- experienced defender JCT's K V Dhanesh. Team Manager Parminder Singh said they rate Kerala as a good team but took confidence from the win over Manipur, who fielded at least half a dozen regular India team players. "Kerala are a really good team and the fact that they are making their fourth consecutive final speaks about the state's reserves," Parminder said. "However we will go all out for the win," he said. (PTI)