Playing Santosh Trophy in Riyadh great exposure for players, says Igor Stimac

Riyadh [Saudi Arabia], February 28 (ANI): The Santosh Trophy is down to its business end, with the semi-finals, 3rd place match, and the final set to be held at the King Fahd International Stadium, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The action kicks off with Punjab taking on Meghalaya in the first semi-final, followed by the second one between Services and Karnataka.

The Santosh Trophy’s Arabian tale will get underway at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. Punjab and Meghalaya will be the first to grace the hallowed turf, when they lock horns on Wednesday, followed by the second semi-final, where Services will take on Karnataka at the same venue.

Senior Indian National Team head coach Igor Stimac is one who will be following the progress with great excitement, as he believes that the renewed importance that the Santosh Trophy has from this season onwards will help revitalise one of the most important tournaments in the Indian Football calendar.

"One of the vital points for our future is to revitalise such tournaments for the betterment of football in India. Hope Santosh Trophy becomes what it used to be," said Stimac in a video posted by Indian Football on Instagram.

"Playing it in a foreign country is great for the teams. It’s an amazing exposure for the teams and the players to play, where many great footballers have played. I’m sure there will also be great infrastructure. The teams that have reached the semi-finals will get to witness all that, which is great," Stimac added.

The Senior Men’s National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy is a rather unique tournament, where not clubs, but state teams fight it out against each other, with their squads composed only of Indian players.

"The Santosh Trophy is absolutely fundamental. Having only Indian players is exactly what any Indian coach would love to see. To have states involved in such a contest is good for everyone because we will get to see the quality of the talent available in these regions of the country," said Stimac.

The Santosh Trophy was one of the premier tournaments of India, studded with stars from the National Teams. In more recent times, the tournament has served as a pipeline for a number of players that have since made it through the domestic league system and even to the National Teams, with the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Manvir Singh, and Sahal Abdul Samad being just a few examples.

"It’s a very important platform for all the players to showcase their talent. It’s a tournament that they can use as a springboard in their careers as everyone will have their eyes on it. The Santosh Trophy is dear to the Indian Football community, and I wish every player involved in it the very best," he said.

One of the specialities of the Santosh Trophy this season is that King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is set to host the four matches at the business end, is a hallowed turf where greats like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema have featured over the past few weeks.

"It would be a great feeling to play on a pitch where Messi and Ronaldo have played. What bigger opportunity could you possibly ask for?"Just a couple of weeks after the Santosh Trophy, the Blue Tigers will again assemble for the Tri-Nation Friendly Tournament — another historic occasion as the city of Imphal, Manipur, the first territory of Independent India, is set to host International football matches for the first time. Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic will cross swords with India in the Tri-Nation Tournament.

"I thank Manipuri parents for the players they have given us. Their children are a very important part of our team. I use this opportunity to invite all of them to matches against Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan. I’m sure the players, those from Manipur in particular, will also be happy playing in their own backyard, in front of their near and dear ones," said Stimac.

India are in the preparation stage for the AFC Asian Cup next year and playing the two teams from South-East and Central Asia will be a good start towards those efforts, deems Stimac.

"Kyrgyz Republic are obviously a better side than Myanmar. They have a young, strong and talented team. But we’ll go in with a positive mindset and we’ll try to break their defence," said Stimac. (ANI)