SPORTS: Players eye spot past quarterfinal – Sikkim breaking sporting benchmarks while Darjeeling talent languishes in agitation ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, July 15: The most promising Sikkim football team assembled in recent years is aiming to break its quarterfinal benchmark in the 64th Santosh Trophy championship that started in Calcutta today.
The best performance of Sikkim in the Santosh Trophy so far was a quarterfinal berth in Delhi in 2004.
This time, the Sikkim team has higher ambitions than a spot in the last eight of the national football tournament. The team’s confidence comes from two main factors.
Firstly, the team has been given a relatively easy draw against Haryana on July 21 and Chhattisgarh on July 23 in their group.
Secondly, the squad is banking on the experience of 13 members who are currently playing for three I-league clubs and second-tier professional football clubs in the country.
“This time, we have hopes that the team will better the quarterfinal record. Most of the members are playing for various clubs outside the state and there would not be acclimatisation problems, which the Sikkim team used to face in the past,” said Sikkim assistant coach Arjun Rai.
“All the 20 players are physically fit and they had played for their clubs before joining the 20-day selection camp at Paljor Stadium here. Most of the members are under 20 and will be raring to prove themselves at the national levels,” said Rai.
Asked about Haryana and Chhattisgarh, Rai was cautious. “Every state sends their best team for the Santosh Trophy and we expect strong resistance from Haryana and Chhattisgarh. We have to play good football to top the group,” he said.
Both captain Sanju Pradhan and defender Nirmal Chettri play for the I-League team East Bengal.
Three more players in the squad will be playing in the next season of I-League as their clubs have been promoted to the national league. They are Bikask Jairu and Robin Gurung (ONGC, Mumbai), and Nim Tshering Lepcha (HAL, Bangalore).
Eight others are playing in second-tier clubs like Amity, Lanshing Football Club (Shillong), Md Sporting AC (Calcutta), Arhima Football Club (Shillong) and Nakuarat Football Club (Shillong). The remaining seven players are with Sports Authority of India (Namchi) and Sikkim Police.
Sikkim Football Association general secretary Menla Ethanpa said Bhaichung Bhutia had conveyed his best wishes to the team. He said Bhutia was away in Portugal for a coaching camp.