New Delhi: Ubeat Meghalaya, who have made their maiden Santosh Trophy semifinal, want to go all the way and cap a historic triumph in Saudi Arabia.
For the first time, the Santosh Trophy national football championships will be held on foreign soil when the knockout phase — semifinals, final and third place playoff — will be played at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.
The same hallowed pitch hosted two of the world’s all time greats — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — in an exhibition match last month.
“For us, it is a very big motivation to be playing in Riyadh. For most of our players, this will be their first international exposure. It is good for us and good for Indian football,” Meghalaya coach Khlain Syiemlieh told PTI.
Meghalaya will face Punjab, while Services will square off against Karnataka in the two semifinals Wednesday. The third place playoff and the summit clash are slated on Saturday.
“Now our target is to lift the trophy,” he said, lauding the All India Football Federation for taking the final stage of Santosh Trophy to Saudi Arabia.
“I feel we can beat Punjab. We have beaten a team like Bengal in the final round in Bhubaneswar. We can beat any team on our day.”
Portuguese superstar Ronaldo is also now based in Riyadh having moved to Saudi Arabian giants Al-Nassr FC last month from Manchester United.
“Yes of course they know it. They are excited to be playing in the stadium where Ronaldo had played.
“Ronaldo is in their minds but the focus is on our match and to lift the Santosh Trophy. Other things are secondary.”
Syiemlieh said his team has prepared very well this time and that was why his wards were doing well.
“Earlier, players from Meghalaya were not very serious about playing in Santosh Trophy. This time it was different. The Meghalaya Football Association was very serious. We planned very well, we gave the players more time for training.
“We trained for around one and half months. We had a residential camp in Shillong. After that we went to Guwahati and played against the NorthEast United reserve team.
“We trained in Guwahati because Shillong is cold and completely different from Bhubaneswar (where the final round was held).”
Syiemlieh said his players are mostly in the age group of 21-23 while a few are a bit older. Most of the team members are from Mawlai SC, the Shillong Premier League champions, of which he is also the current coach.
From 36 teams in the Group Stage, which was played across six venues, the final round saw 12 sides (10 qualifiers from the Group Stage, along with Services and Railways, who had direct entry) competing in the final round in Bhubaneswar.
The teams were divided into two groups of six each. Punjab and Karnataka made the semifinals as the top two teams from Group A of the final round, while Services and Meghalaya qualified from Group B.