Thursday, August 30, 2007

India Football Team wins the Nehru Cup

NEHRU CUP FINAL: A new era begins under Houghton’s leadership as hosts down strong Syria through a Pradeep goal

New Delhi, August 29: Scenes of a packed house bringing the house down with “India, India” chants is rare in Indian football. But then it is not often that the Indian team topples a team ranked 40 places above it in FIFA ranking.

In an evening that should provide a big boost for the profile of the sport in the country, a goal from N P Pradeep against fancied Syria clinched India’s first title victory in the ONGC Nehru Cup here tonight.
More than anything, the five-nation meet has seen a new face of Indian football —sans doubts over ability and sans hang-ups about years of doormat status.
With seven yellow cards and a red for Syrian midfielder Wael Ayan, emotions ran deep in a high-adrenaline contest, and several times reached boiling point. But tonight Bob Houghton’s men were in no mood to let go this opportunity that for many in the team of greenhorns was the biggest night of their life so far.
In the absence of Mohammed Alzeno, still nursing a bruised shoulder, the Syrian troika that included skipper Maher Al Said and Zyed Chaabo, was rendered largely ineffective.
The ever-dependable Mahesh Gawli rose to the occasion and gave ample proof of why he has been one of the most sought after players in Indian football. He even inspired the back-line of Gourmangi Singh, Surkumar Singh and NS Manju to come out of their skins and show a bit of Chak-de effect.
Skipper Bhutia brought his experience to the fore, his clever play completely rattling the Syrians and forcing them to go for physical challenges that finally cost them dear.
India’s big moment came when Sunil Chhetri drifted towards the left flank in the 44th minute and floated a cross for Bhutia who headed it down for an onrushing Pradeep. The shy Kerala midfielder’s bullet left footer brought the house down as it beat Syrian custodian Mowssab Blahowss.
A completely ruffled and off-guard Syrian side resorted to power play and in one such moment of madness in the injury time of first half, Wael Ayan kicked Surkumar Singh and all hell broke loose. The players clashed, but when the dust settled, Ayan was sent off by referee Sikhrakar Surendra of Nepal.
Syria tried to begin the second half with a positive frame of mind, but Indian goalkeeper Subrato Paul was like a man possessed under the bar and was courage personified as he thwarted every Syrian attack.
India could have scored at least two more, but for uncharacteristic misses from Steven Dias and Bhutia.
But those misses fortunately did not prove costly and the final whistle, after nearly six minutes of time added on, sparked jubilant scenes on the pitch and in the stands.
The match also provided ample proof of the level of self-belief that Houghton has been able to instil in his team. It is not often that one sees an Indian player selling a dummy to opponents even in league matches, forget a high intensity final.
And as All Indian Football Federation general secretary Alberto Colaco pointed out later,” not many coaches could have substituted Bhaichung Bhutia.”
But that is what the Englishman brings to the team — positivity and hunger.
India received the winners’ prize of $ 40,000 while the Syrians had to settle for half that amount.
India: Baichung Bhutia (Abhishek Yadav 91), NS Manju, Ajayan Nair (Clifford Miranda 80th), Gouramangi Singh M, NP Pradeep, Sunil Chettri (Tarif Ahmad 93), Mahesh Gawli, Irungbani Surkumar Singh, Subrato Paul, Steven Benedict Dias, Climax Lawrence.
Syria: Mowssab Blahowss, Ali Dyeb, Mahmoud Al Amena (Ibrahim Al Hasan 86th), Maher Al Syed, Khaled M Albaba, Mootassem Alaya (Ali Al Rifayi 84th), Aatef Jenyet, Wael Ayan, Zeen Alabeden Al Fandi, Zyad Chaabo (Anas Al Asaf 89), Feras Esmaeel.
Referee: Sikhrakar Surendra; Astt Referees: Kiran Giri & Taufeeq Ibraheem
A dream come true
• Striker Sunil Chhetri (11) darts into the Syrian half and floats a neat ball to skipper Bhaichung Bhutia (15) just in front of the penalty box
• The wily striker dodges Syrian defender Ali Dyeb and with a turn shuffles it towards a rushing NP Pradeep (7)
• The midfielder first touch creates space for strike and the bullet-like left footer beats a diving Syrian goalkeeper Mowssab Blahowss
Many, including coach Bob Houghton, believe that the win is the ideal catalyst that Indian football needed to come out of four decades of hibernation. A fillip to the rising profile of the sport in the country, more importantly a place in public mind space and in the broader sense will herald an attitudinal shift in Indian footballers.
India have managed just three wins in the 12 previous editions of the tournament. A title-win tonight is the biggest win after the LG Cup in Vietnam in 2002. But before that last international success was a bronze medal at Bangkok Asian Games in 1970.
Striker’s quote: I am both lucky and honoured to get the opportunity to score the winner tonight. It’s a team goal and individually this one is for my father who passed away last month.