As St Lawrence feel the heat of being defending champions, last year's runner-up Bombay Scottish and former winners Don Bosco eye coveted crown
St Lawrence (Kandivli) surprised everyone by winning the Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA) boys' U-16 Division I title last year, and now face with an even tougher challenge of defending that prestigious title as the new season of schools football kicks off at Azad Maidan today.
Champs at work: The St Lawrence High School’s (Kandivli) U-16 football team goes through the paces during a training session in Kandivli recently. Pic/Nimesh Dave
St Lawrence will face stiff resistance from former champions Don Bosco (Matunga) and last year's runners-up Bombay Scottish (Mahim). The defending champions realise that the pressure is on them. "Last year was a landmark year for us as we won the MSSA title when nobody expected us to win. I am aware that to defend the title will not be easy, but we will give our best and not think about results," St Lawrence's captain Chirag Das told mid-day recently.
"We have striker Krish Adhikari, who was part of last year's winning team and some good U-14 players like Shiv Narayan Gupta, Moiz Lakhana, Prayang Preman who have graduated into our team this year and provide the much-needed balance to the side team," added Das. St Lawrence coach Lachman Singh Bisht however, felt it will be tough to defend their title as most of the key members of last year's winning team have passed out of school.
"Nine boys from last year's team — Ishaan Rana, Harsh Rall, Yash Sawant, Nikhil Parulekar, Satyam Chaturvedi, Karan Jadhav, Vijay Mishra, Sahil Tungatkar and Kartik Bele have passed out of school so it won't be easy to defend the title, but we'll give it our 100 percent and try to be champions again," said Bisht.
Men behind the boys: St Lawrence (Kandivli) coach Lachman Singh Bisht (left), Don Bosco (Matunga) coach Leslie Machado & Bombay Scottish (Mahim) coach Adip Kenkre (right)
Don Bosco coach Leslie Machado said that St Lawrence's victory last year goes to show that no team can be taken lightly. "We will miss key players like Ashish Shetty, Maanav Baraskar, Jonathan D'Souza and Pascal Fernandes from last year's team, but that happens every year. We have a balanced side and hope to get our hands on the title this year," said Machado, who has been associated with the Matunga school's football set-up for over two decades.
Bombay Scottish (Mahim), who finished runner-up last year (losing 1-2 to St Lawrence in the final), also have their eye on the coveted crown. "Every year our aim is to finish among the top-four teams, so making it to the final or winning it is a bonus. We missed out on the title last year and hope not to err at the final hurdle this time. Don Bosco are a good side though and I think it will be a keen tussle between us and them," said Scottish coach Adip Kenkre.
Bombay Scottish take on vs Jamnabai Narsee (Juhu) in the tournament's opening encounter at 2pm at Azad maidan today.