The semi-finals and final of the 76th National Football Championship Santosh Trophy, to be held abroad for the first time ever, will be held between March 1 and 4, 2023, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The AIFF Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran, along with Mr Avijit Paul, Executive Committee Member, AIFF, and Joint Secretary, Football Association of Odisha, made the announcement here on the eve of the launch of the Santosh Trophy.
Dr Prabhakaran informed the media that it was decided in a meeting between the AIFF and the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) earlier in the day that the iconic King Fahd International Stadium will play host to semi-finals and finals of the Hero Santosh Trophy.
The timings of the aforementioned matches will be announced at a later date.
“This is a great moment for Indian football, as the four states that make it to the semifinals will get to fight for the Santosh Trophy title in Saudi Arabia. I would like to convey my sincere thanks to the SAFF for all their help and cooperation in helping us achieve this vision of taking the Hero Santosh Trophy to a next level,” said Dr Prabhakaran.
“I would also like to profusely thank the Government of Odisha for extending their massive and continuing support in hosting the 12 teams in the final rounds of the Santosh Trophy,” he added.
The AIFF Secretary General pointed out that this would make the final round, beginning on Friday, here in Bhubaneswar, an even more interesting and competitive event.
“The battle for the last four is likely to be an intense one, and we all hope that the fight will go down to the wire to book a spot on the international stage, which will be the first time since 1941, when the Santosh Trophy was launched as a six-venue tournament with the final being played in Kolkata,” he said.
“The Santosh Trophy is central to our plans in development of football across the country, as we look to improve the conditions for all our State FAs to make bigger contributions in taking Indian Football forward. Helping out Member Associations is central to our plans for long term growth, as we have charted out last month in Vision 2047, and these are just baby steps towards a much larger goal,” he added.
The Secretary General also spoke at length about the development of football across the country, something that has been presented by the Federation in Vision 2047, earlier this year.
“If you go through the Strategic Roadmap, we aim to improve both our men’s and women’s teams in the coming years, but that improvement does not happen with the click of a button. There are carefully charted out steps that we must follow in order to achieve our goals. We are also getting a lot of support from the Central and various State Governments, and we are extremely thankful for it,” said Dr Prabhakaran.
Meanwhile, AIFF Executive Committee Member and FAO Joint Secretary Mr Avijit Paul lauded the Federation for the changes it has brought about in Indian football, and the way it is working towards an overall improvement in a strategic manner.
“The AIFF has hugely changed in the way it has been working in recent times. Previously, we, the state teams used to play only a couple of matches and then just go back, if we did not qualify for the Santosh Trophy Final Rounds. Now, however, everyone is getting a substantial number of games, and that is the way forward,” said Paul.
“The President Mr Kalyan Chaubey and the Secretary General Dr Prabhakaran have also been closely looking into the development of football across various parts of the country, something that was not seen before,” he added.
The Federation Secretary General further expressed interest in increasing Indian football’s collaboration with Odisha.
“We are very serious about a collaboration with Odisha as a key partner in our projects. Football is among the top 2 sports in Odisha, and we need to further grow it here,” he said.
The final rounds of the Santosh Trophy are set to get underway in Bhubaneswar, Odisha from February 10-20.
Twelve teams have been divided into two groups of six each in the Final Rounds, and will play each other in a round robin format; the top two teams from each group will have the honour of being the first teams in the Santosh Trophy to play on foreign soil, once they move to Riyadh for the semifinals and final.