Santosh Trophy: Services meet Punjab
By Debayan Mukherjee, Kochi, Feb 28 : It will be a battle of wits when two heavyweights in the form of champions Services and seven-time winners Punjab cross swords in the second semi-final of the 67th Santosh Trophy here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Friday.
While Punjab are likely to play the aerial ball more to help their tall strikers like Amandeep Singh and Prem Kumar make early forays into the Services defence, the defending champions would prefer to string together short passes which suits their fleet footed players like Z.V. Zorin and Shadip Rai.
It will be interesting to see how the two coaches - Sajith Kumar of Services and Harnik Singh of Punjab - strategize to counter each other's different style of play. For the moment though, they preferred to hold their cards close to their chests.
"They play the aerial ball more because of the tall players in their arsenal. Our style is completely different as we play more possession football and ground passes. We like to open spaces as our players are suited to that. Our flank movement is very god and am banking a lot of that. My players are very fast with the ball and without it too. This is our advantage. Well, obviously we have got a plan to counter their gameplay but let's not get into that too much," Sajith Kumar quipped.
"Punjab are a very strong side and they have done really well to reach this far. They are gelling well and we have to put our best foot forward in order to win," added the Services Coach.
Punjab have won all their three quarterfinal matches in what was a Group of Death with 31-times champions Bengal, last year's semi finalists Manipur and in-form Karnataka being the other residents.
For Services, who won the trophy after more than half a century last year, it has been a mixed bag thus far. Starting their campaign with a draw against Railways, they mauled Madhya Pradesh 6-0 before toiling hard to beat Orissa 2-0.
Kumar though does not want to dwell on the past. "We did have a mixed outing in the quarterfinals but I thought my boys showed character to wriggle out of difficulties and played some scintillating football as well, against MP.
In Maharashtra we have a side who we haven't seen a lot as they played their matches in Kollam. But we have done our homework and have a gameplan to counter their aerial ball play," he concluded.
Match starts 6:30 PM LIVE ON DD SPORTS
Head to Head
Total Matches - 14
Services Won - 5
Punjab Won - 7
Drawn - 2
Services Goals - 20
Punjab Goals - 20
May 20, 2011 (Guwahati)
Punjab 2 (Barjinder Singh Cheema, Gurpreet Singh)
Services 2 (Gordon Z, PS Sandhu)
Highest Margin of Victory
January 25, 1967 (Hyderabad)
Services 5 (Ranjit Thapa - hattrick, Bhupinder Singh Rawat, Bir Bahadur)