Close contest on cards as Services take on Punjab

It will be a battle of wits when two heavyweights in the form of champions Services and seven-time winners Punjab cross swords in the second semi-final of the 67th Santosh Trophy national football championship here tomorrow.

While Punjab are likely to rely more on the aerial ball to help their tall strikers like Amandeep Singh and Prem Kumar make early forays into the Services defence, the defending champions would prefer to string together short passes which suits their fleet-footed players.

It will be interesting to see how the two coaches Sajith Kumar of Services and Harnik Singh of Punjab strategise to counter each other's different style of play at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.

For the moment though, they preferred to hold their cards close to their chests.

"They play the aerial ball more because of the tall players in their arsenal. Our style is completely different as we play more possession football and ground passes. We like to open spaces as our players are suited to that.

"Our flank movement is very god and I am banking a lot on that. My players are very fast with the ball and without it too. This is our advantage. Obviously we have got a plan to counter their gameplay," Sajith Kumar quipped.

Punjab have won all their three quarterfinal matches in what was a group of death with 31-times champions Bengal, last year's semifinalists Manipur and in-form Karnataka being the other sides.

For Services, who ended their five decade-long drought last year, it has been a mixed bag so far. Starting their campaign with a draw against Railways, they mauled Madhya Pradesh 6-0 before toiling hard to beat Orissa 2-0.

Kumar, however, does not want to dwell on the past.

"We did have a mixed outing in the quarterfinals but I thought my boys showed character to wriggle out of difficulties and played some scintillating football as well, against MP.

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