Nilanjan Datta

Services (Arjun Tudu – 26th, 37th) beat Maharashtra (Mohammed Shabaz – 15th)

Even as the prize distribution ceremony was about to begin, Man of the Match Arjun Tudu and Jain P took the stairs and ran up to meet National Coach Stephen Constantine who had come over to watch the Final. It was only in December 2015 that Constantine had spotted and summoned the duo to the National Camp prior to the SAFF Suzuki Cup which India won.

Moments later, even as Tudu received his Man of the Match Trophy and Services the Winners Trophy along with a Cheque of Rs. 5 lakh from Mr. Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, his gratitude must have known no bounds.

A much more confident Player post his National Camp stint, Tudu scored two goals in a space of 11 minutes to help Services retain the 70th National Football Championships for the Santosh Trophy beating hosts Maharashra 2-1 in the Final at the SEC Railway Stadium Nagpur on Sunday (March 13).

This was the fifth triumph for Services. The runners-up received a prize of Rs. 3 lakhs.

Speaking to, Constantine admitted having “enjoyed the Final.”

“Both Teams worked very hard. Services despite conceding early had the better of exchanges in the first half. But Maharashtra controlled most of the second half and had they converted their chances, they could have won it,” he said. “But Services deserved to win it. Congrats to the Players, the Coach and the entire staff.”

It was Maharashtra who surged ahead in the 15th minute. The diagonal release from Mervin Stephen’s outstep of the right foot from just outside the box was just perfect. And deservingly it got the finish it deserved. Following it up, Shabaz, with a sudden burst of speed sneaked in between the two Defenders, chested it down towards vacant and blasted it in. All in one flash!

Arjun Tudu and Jain P with National Coach Stephen Constantine
Services equalized 11 minutes later – in the 26th minute. The speed of Arjun Tudu created ripples all throughout the Tournament and the Final was no different. The omnipresent Tudu created space with his run making space for the tireless Francis Zununtluanga. Francis ran a few paces and laid it for Tudu who made no mistake to place it to the right of a diving Owais Khan.

Play thereafter was mostly confined to midfield with both Teams unable to break down the other. But deft skills from the nimble footed Shabaz created an opening for Maharashtra. Shabaz, blessed with a deadly left foot hoodwinked Anthony and essayed a perfect one to an unmarked Abhishek inside the box. But Abhishek failed to chest it down thus wasting it in the process.

But it wasn’t the tale of both the Teams and that’s what made the difference. What Maharashtra muffed, Services didn’t. In the 37th minute, a defensive lapse inside the Maharashtra box presented Tudu a chance and from nowhere and he had Owais at his mercy. Typical of a poacher, Tudu guided it into the deep corner.

Changing over, Francis intercepted a loose ball and sped past the entire Maharashtra defence and had it not been for Owais rushing out in time, the match may have been settled by the 50th minute itself.

Maharashtra regrouped and with Services preferring to push back, the second half was mostly confined to Services’ half except for some counter attacks where Services intended to play it long behind the Maharashtra defence for Tudu to run past them.

Backed by the home crowd who were growing impatient with every minute, Maharashtra pressed and earned their chances too. They failed to curl and dip a couple of free-kicks from just outside the box, blasted the side netting from close and sometimes, preferred to hold on to the Ball for that shade too long allowing the rival defence to regroup.

Services were even reduced to 10-men in the 88th minute when Hardik Kanojiya was flashed the Red Card. There were anxious moments inside the Services box but eventually, it didn’t change the scoreline.

Partisan all throughout the 90 minutes, the crowd was sporting enough to acknowledge the Services Team when they applauded the Crowd, all reflecting the spirit of the ‘Beautiful Game.’