Midfielder Nijo Gilbert will lead former champion Kerala in the 77th Santosh Trophy National football championship, which features ten new faces in the squad.
Kerala is in Group ‘A’ and plays its first phase matches at Vasco da Gama in Goa, with its opener against Gujarat on October 11. Goa, Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir are the other three teams in the group.
The seven-time champion has not had the best of preparations this time, with rain playing a spoilsport. “I always get a sort of average team, not many extraordinary players, but after our training, practice matches and after assessing and correcting things, the team gets set by the time it plays its first match. But rain has been the big villain this time,” Satheevan Balan, the team’s head coach, told Sportstar from Thenipalam, Malappuram, on Wednesday evening.
“Our practice matches against strong teams like Kerala Police and Gokulam Kerala had to be cancelled because of rain. Now, we have a friendly match against Muthoot FC – a Kerala Premier League team – on Thursday and a match against Lakshadweep, which has its Santosh Trophy camp in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border near Wayanad, on October 7,” he added.
The first phase will have six groups, and the winners of each group will get an automatic entry into the Santosh Trophy’s final phase in Arunachal Pradesh.
Apart from that, the three best second-placed teams along with last year’s winners Karnataka, runner-up Meghalaya and final phase host Arunachal Pradesh will play in the main phase.