Before they continue the bid to end a 10-year title drought and ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against Services in the 63rd Santosh Trophy, Bengal players must thank whoever they believe in for escaping unhurt after training two days on a surface that looked more like a tennis clay court than a football park.
Dubbed as the revenge match — Services thumped Bengal 4-1 in the semi-finals of the last edition and the defeat is still fresh in the mind — but coach Raghu Nandi preferred looking ahead instead of going back in time. “We lost to them last year, but this year our team is in a much better shape. All the players are fit and raring to go,” Nandi said.
Nandi, and the players too, however, seemed disappointed with the ground arranged for training. “How can they expect our players to train on such a ground,” Nandi asked. “After all they are footballers representing a state in the country's premier domestic tournament.”
“I give the credit to my players for agreeing to train on such a surface,” the coach said. “We risked injury.”
With Services failing to replicate the form they showed last time, Bengal, after a subdued start, now have a realistic chance to go all the way. Going by form, a repeat of their performance against Punjab should see them through.
Perhaps that's why Nandi doesn't want to change the combination with Lalkamal Bhowmick expected to come in the second half. “The midfield is fine, the defenders have also been performing well and then Lalwmpuiya is doing a great job upfront,” Nandi said.
“The presence of Shankar Oraon would have completed the line-up, but we still have a very balanced side,” he said.
Services coach Raghavindra Singh though felt his boys are peaking at the right time. “We had a camp in Kolkata before the tournament where we played the Bengal XI twice. We lost one and won one, and I happy that we achieved that without Shaji D' Silva and Sochungmi Raleng,” Singh said.
“Our players are familiar with Bengal's style of play and that will help us a lot tomorrow,” Singh said.