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Santosh Trophy: Bengal challenge for Karnataka; Mizoram up against Kerala (Preview)

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IANS Kolkata
Defending champions Bengal will be up against Karnataka while Kerala and Mizoram will clash in a battle of two in-form teams in the semi-finals of the national football championship for the 72nd Santosh Trophy here on Friday.
Karnataka, who bagged the Santosh Trophy last time in 1968-69 as Mysore, topped Group B with wins over Goa, Odisha and Mizoram.
"We have young players hungry to play and keen to win. Now that we have reached the semi-finals, anything can happen," Karnataka coach P. Muralidharan said.
Karnataka's success in the competition has been based on their dogged determination and defensive organisation, which make up for their lack of fire power upfront as they will be up against a side who have been a record 32-time champions.
"Several players of Karnataka appear in the second division league. They are physically dominant, fast, strong and will be a good opponent. It is for us to achieve a positive result," Bengal coach Ranjan Chowdhury said.
An exciting contest will be on the cards when Kerala and Mizoram lock horns at the Mohun Bagan ground.
Five-time champions Kerala have dominated proceedings in the final round of the competition and are one of the hot favourites to win the tournament which has lost its sheen in recent times.
The Satheevan Balan-coached side is not only the highest scoring side in the competition but they also hold the best defensive record. Kerala have scored 15 goals enroute to the semi-final and just conceded once.
However, Mizoram are not a side to write off easily, and Balan has warned his side against complacency.
"Mizoram is one of the best teams in the tournament. I believe it be an intense match with a lot of pressure," said Balan.
Kerala last won the Santosh Trophy in 2005, and will fancy their chances of a first title in the current decade if they can overcome the north easterners.
Mizoram, have shown improvement with each game. Although they lost their last Group B match against Karnataka, but they rested as many as eight of their regular starters, in a bid to keep them fresh. All of them will be handed starts in the semi-final.
Mizoram coach Lalsangzuala Hmar has made it clear that he would be expecting a challenging encounter with Kerala, but he is unfazed by the pedigree of the southern outfit.
This will probably be a open game, with two coaches who prefer free-flowing attacking football.
"We have a lot of respect for Kerala but we are ready to face them. We need to keep our composure and I am positive that the players will rise to the occasion," he said.
The Mizoram Premier League winning coach hopes that his side can recover in time and turn up with the goods against Kerala who have had the luxury of an extra day to recover before the big fixture.
"It isn't the ideal recovery period before a big game but we are going to keep that aside and focus on the job ahead," he added.
--IANS
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First Published: Mar 29 2018 | 7:58 PM IST

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