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Posted on Feb 21, 03:44PM | IBNS
By Debayan Mukherjee, New Delhi, Feb 21 : Hot on the heels of the International FIFA Friendly between India and Palestine on February 6, football has returned to 'God's Own Country' again. This time, for a longer period, and in the form of the prestigious Santosh Trophy, the 67th edition to be precise. The Qualifying Round of the National Championships did kick-off in Varanasi along with Kerala's Kollam and Kochi, but come February 23, the quarterfinal round would be held only in Kerala, an event which everyone in the State has been waiting for long -- even, IM Vijayan and Joe Paul Ancheri! Hear it from them, and you will feel the pulse. "Back in 1999-2000 (Santosh Trophy) in Thrissur, I remember we played Maharashtra and I was then the Captain (of Kerala). We played in front of a packed stadium and the feeling was surreal," Ancheri recollects with www.the-aiff.com. "Playing in front of a full house stays the dream for any player. When I lead the team out of the tunnel, I felt princely," his grin stays evident even over the phone.
"We lost the match 0-1, (Mohammed) Najeeb-bhai scoring the match-winner. But irrespective of the result, the crowd cheered the winners and even the brand of football which Maharashtra played on the day. That's Kerala. They will support you but also appreciate if the visitors play well," he adds.
The last time Kerala hosted the Santosh Trophy was in 2005 in Kochi.
IM Vijayan, arguably the Greatest Footballer of his generation echoed Ancheri's feelings. "I need to pinch myself. The Santosh Trophy is back in Kerala!" he opines. "Kerala has a lot to offer to Indian football," he adds.