© Getty Images (representational image)
© Getty Images (representational image)

Nagpur: Maharashtra will face an uphill battle when they take on defending champions Services in the Santosh Trophy final on Sunday. Services are in excellent form, having beaten mighty Goa in the semi-final by a solitary goal. The armymen dominated most of the match but were left frustrated by some poor finishing until an own goal from Goa’s Mohammed Ali in extra-time handed them a spot in the title decider. Services have a more direct and aggressive style. They have the experience and loads of fighting spirit which make them a dangerous unit. They depend more on their fitness and pressing football and that has paid off well so far.

Striker Arjun Tudu has been in good form in this competition. Fearless, quick and playing like a man possessed in this edition of the Santosh Trophy, Tudu has been someone whom Services coach S.P. Shaji could fall back upon. Confident after his stint in the national camp under India coach Stephen Constantine, Tudu’s perseverance rattled the Goan defence almost throughout the semi-final.

Maharashtra, on the other hand, will be no pushovers. The hosts, who defeated Tamil Nadu 1-0 in a hard-fought semi-final, will bank on support from their home crowd.

The hosts prefer to play in short passes, holding on to possession and frustrating the opposition. Their style sits in stark contrast to the physical, long ball approach of Services. With an average age of around 23, the Maharashtra players may also be expected to match the physical fitness of their opponents.

Interestingly enough, both Services and Maharashtra have won the Santosh Trophy four times each. While Services won in 1960, 2012, 2013 and 2015, Maharashtra triumphed in 1954 (as Bombay), 1963, 1990 and in 1999. Services coach Shaji is aware about the partisan crowd, but is confident that his boys will prevail in the end.

“The crowd will always motivate you from the stands and it raises the performance. But that’s our challenge. We would love to play against them and silence them,” he said. “We want to beat them and be champions. We are the Army. We will fight.”