Sikkim in Santosh Trophy main round after 14 years

Sikkim players and officials rejoice their achievement.
Fri, Feb 8, 2019

BIJOY GURUNG
GANGTOK:
Sikkim on Thursday eliminated defending champions West Bengal from Santosh Trophy and progressed into the main quarterfinal round after a gap of 14 years.
Last time Sikkim featured in the main round of the nation’s foremost football tournament was in 2004 at Delhi. Bhaichung Bhutia, then Indian football team captain, was also in the Sikkim squad that time.
Since then, Sikkim has been annually evicted from the zonal qualifying round having being grouped with perennial title contenders West Bengal almost every time. This year, however, Sikkim finally got better of West Bengal and topped its group East Zone B on goal difference.
The zonal qualifiers were being held at Bhilai, Chhattisgarh featuring Sikkim, Bihar and West Bengal. Only the group winner could progress into the next main round of Santosh Trophy.
Having thumped Bihar 4-1, Sikkim just needed a draw against Bengal on Thursday to top the group on goal difference. Bengal, who could defeat Bihar by a solitary goal only, had to win against Sikkim.
However, the game plan of Bengal received an early jolt when it conceded a penalty within 5 minutes of the match. Defender Sonam Zangpo calmly converted the spot kick to give the lead to Sikkim.
Bengal managed to get the equalizing goal in the dying moments of first half.
In the second half, Sikkim beefed up its defence and focused on counter-attacking as the match ended 1-1 sending the Himalayan State into the main round of Santosh Trophy.
“We just needed a draw against Bengal to progress into the next round. Accordingly, we entered the field with a defensive approach and to create opportunities through counterattacks. Our game plan received an early success when we got and scored through a penalty within five minutes of the match. Our defence stood firm against the attacks from the opponent teams and we managed to get the draw,” said captain Mayal Dok Lepcha.
Mayal Dok shared that the Sikkim players were jubilant on having making it to the main round and also emerging winners from a group that had defending champions and 31-time winner Bengal.
“After more than a decade Sikkim has qualified for the main round of Santosh Trophy. The feeling is yet to sink in as to the enormity of our achievement. The players had entered the qualifying round with the main aim of progressing into the main round. We had a golden opportunity to achieve this today and players were particularly motivated that they could create history for Sikkim Football that too at the expense of 31-time winner Bengal,” said Mayal Dok.
Odisha and Sikkim are the two teams who have qualified for the main round of Santosh Trophy from East Zone A and B. The winners of south, west and north zones are awaited. The main round of Satosh Trophy featuring eight States would take place after one month.
Team Sikkim is returning home on Friday.
Sikkim Football Association (SFA) president Menla Ethenpa and association members have extended their congratulations to the State team.
Speaking with SIKKIM EXPRESS, SFA joint secretary Arjun Rai said the association had high hopes from the team to win the qualifying round.
Rai along with Milan Singh and Chewang Paul were in the selection committee to select the State squad for the Santosh Trophy qualifiers. The committee was successful in selecting the best available players for the tournament and a 15-day camp was held at Paljor Stadium to prepare the State team, said Rai.
“Once the team returns, we will organise another camp and give them best preparations and training for the main round. It is a huge achievement for Sikkim to qualify for the main round of Santosh Trophy. We will send a well prepared team from Sikkim for the main round,” said Rai.
Speaking with SIKKIM EXPRESS, ISL footballer Nirmal Chettri extended his congratulations to Sikkim team players and coaching staff for making it to the main round of Santosh Trophy. He also congratulated on behalf of Football Players Association of Sikkim (FPAS) of which he is the president.
“Sikkim players have good potential and I hope they do not stop here. Good opportunity lies ahead for our players now. They need to work harder as the main round would be difficult. It is a possible thing for Sikkim to reach the final. I hope they reach the final and make history. I wish them luck,” said Nirmal.


Area: 7096 Sq Km
Capital:Gangtok
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Climate:
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi