Speculation can often be a futile exercise. But if their performance over the past three weeks is any indication — and if they don’t let the weight of expectations break their momentum on Sunday — then Services should be shooting for the title.
The surprise element of the tournament, Services, go into the final of the 62nd J&K Bank Santosh Trophy against Punjab with many psychological advantages. They have beaten the defending champions in the quarterfinal league encounter, they are yet to lose a match in the tournament so far, and most importantly, barring the match against Kerala, they have managed to take the lead by the 25th minute in all their matches.
The devastating form of Sochungmi Raleng and Shaji D’Silva only strengthens the belief. Raleng has given enough evidence of the power that lies in his right foot — his master-foot — in the tournament and Punjab should be wary of that. In addition to the dangerous Raleng, Punjab will also have to deal with the experience of Shaji, the talented Gordon Z and Jiten Meithi though the latter is a doubtful starter (he is suffered a hamstring injury). While Shaji has made an impressive comeback after a two-year layoff due to a ligament injury, Meithi is an intelligent winger whose accurate crosses often culminate in goals.
Gordon has the pace, the ability to distribute telling passes and functions as the perfect conduit for the men in front. If these key players get their act right, Punjab’s defence could experience heavy bombardment at the Bakshi Stadium on Sunday.
To maintain a clean slate and create history — their best in the 67-year-old tournament came in 1969 when they were thrashed by Bengal in the summit clash — Services will, however, have to ensure that complacency doesn’t get the better of them against a determined and dogged Punjab outfit.
Jagir Singh’s wards are known for their workman-like efficiency and it was in full sight during their nerve-wracking semifinal against Karnataka on Friday. And the defending champions would hope their dogged approach helps them prevail over Services.
The drubbing they suffered some 11 days back would still be fresh in the minds of the Punjab players and they would hope to ensure that they do not bite the dust again.
“That was a league game and this is a final; there is a lot of difference between the two. They (Services) will find it more difficult tomorrow,” said Punjab coach Jagir Singh.
Although Services prefer to play a more expansive and open game, Punjab prefer a slow build-up. But in Sakatar Singh and Amnadeep Singh, Punjab have the players who have the pace to break through the Services back-line manned by K.P. Kaboi, Norgan Lama, Dileep M and Lal Ruatafela.
Militants carried out a grenade attack in the Civil Secretariat area here on Saturday. But the J&K Football Association (JKFA) president, Zameer Thakur said there was no need to press the panic button, assuring that it would have no bearing on the final.
“We have beefed up the security and there will be no change in the schedule,” said Thakur.