Thapa: Santosh semis in sight

Despite having made it to their third quarterfinal in as many years in the 2012 Santosh Trophy, Delhi didn’t get any time to celebrate. Almost as soon as the squad had beaten Jharkhand 3-1 in their final league encounter, a night match in Sambalpur, Orissa, they had to rush back to their hotel to pack. “Our cab will be leaving at 5 am for Bhubhaneshwar, where the knock-out matches will be taking place,” says coach of the team and former India international Ranjith Thapa.

Against Jharkhand, Mahender Singh scored a brace while Kamal scored the third goal. The win was Delhi’s third consecutive win in the league phase. They had initially beaten Gujarat 4-0 and then thrashed Andaman and Nicobar 13-0. Delhi had a chance to go into the next phase with a clean sheet but Jharkhand found a consolation goal with just ten minutes to go for the final whistle.

“Towards the end of the match, we were already up 3-0 and were certain of going into the next round. We were trying out new things and perhaps we slackened because we were so ahead on goal difference from the rest of the group. Also we were playing without our specialist defender Vikas Rawat because he already had a yellow card and we didn’t want to risk losing him for the next phase,” he said

That phase would be especially tough considering Delhi has been paired with heavyweights Tamil Nadu, Services and Mizoram in their quarterfinal group. Coach Thapa, though, remains confident that his side will perform well. “If our opponents are tough then we too won’t just give up without a fight. Even in 2010 when we reached the quarterfinal stage, we were alongside Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Mizoram. Even then we didn’t lose a single game,” he says.

Thapa though wants more than to simply return home with a quarterfinal appearance though it was only in 2010 that they had reached the last eight stage for the first time in 45 years. “We have played in the quarter final stage three times in a row now. This time everyone is expecting that we would get into the semi final,” says Thapa.

However the team performs, Thapa insists he has nothing but admiration for them. “Other than three experienced players, our side is very young. We only had a 23-day camp before the team left for the Santosh Trophy but I have no complaints about their dedication and their performance so far,” he says.

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