Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Team India Holds Onto The Nehru Cup

September 2, 2009

Courtesy of FIFA:

India goalkeeper Subrata Paul was the hero as the host nation held their nerve to retain the Nehru Cup winning 5-4 on penalties against Syria at New Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium on Monday.
Despite losing to Lebanon by a solitary goal in the opener, India bounced back to reach the final of the five-nation tournament with wins over Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, it was Syria that went into the tournament decider with an unblemished record that including a solitary-goal victory over the hosts two days prior.

Second-time around proved a different story altogether. Following a goalless 90 minutes, the hosts went ahead eight minutes into the second period of extra time, with Renedy Singh curling in a well-taken free-kick. Despite the agony of conceding so late, the Syrians showed impressive resolve to equalise as Ali Diab headed home a minute from time to force the penalty shoot-out.
Having excelled throughout the campaign, India’s young custodian Paul went on to produce some of the tournaments finest saves when his country needed him most. Although Renedy missed the target and Mehrajuddin Wadoo’s shot was saved, the 22-year-old bravely denied Wael Ayan and Ahmad Haj Mohamad, and after Irungbam Surkumar put India ahead, Paul kept his cool to save from Hamzeh Al Attounim to seal India’s dramatic triumph.
Houghton hails progressPaul’s sublime display didn’t go unappreciated by India coach Bob Houghton, who was quick to acknowledge the talent displayed by his goalkeeper. “Again Subrata was brilliant for us and he had an outstanding tournament,” said the former China and Uzbekistan boss who assumed the reigns of the world’s second most populace nation in 2006.
Under the Englishman, India made history two years ago when they ran out 1-0 winners over Syria to lift the Nehru Cup trophy as hosts for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1982. Boosted by the ground-breaking success, India went on to claim arguably their greatest success to date by winning last year’s AFC Challenge Cup, thus booking their place in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.
“The team has played together for the last three years and they are a matured group now,” Houghton stated after the Nehru Cup final. “They play for each other and give everything for the team. Even after conceding the late equaliser and missing two spot kicks, the team came back.”
Winning a hat-trick of titles in his three years in charge has provided Houghton and his charges with a timely boost in the build-up to India’s first appearance in the AFC Asian Cup since 1984. “We still have our work cut out if we are to do well in the Asian Cup. We will plan to play some good matches to keep the team in good shape.”

Like India, Syria also showed impressive form throughout the tournament and despite the second near-miss against the hosts, they showed they are truly a side to be reckoned with.
Under the guidance of Fajer Ebrahim, Syria began brightly with a 2-0 win against Kyrgyzstan. They went on to defeat Sri Lanka 4-0, edging Lebanon 1-0 to book their place in the final, before beating the hosts in the final group match, albeit with the result academic.

“We were unlucky to lose the game as we had created so many chances,” said Ebrahim, whose side is seeking to qualify for Qatar 2011 from a group which also features Lebanon, China and Vietnam. “I hope the experiences gained and lessons learned from this campaign will benefit us in the forthcoming Asian Cup qualifiers.”
A special thanks to our LFV readers in India – Jai!
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A Dark Day In Sports History

March 3, 2009

Imagine the most beloved sports team in your country travelling abroad for a prestigious tournament, only to have their bus attacked with rifles, rockets, and hand grenades as they approached a stadium for a match. No, this one isn’t about soccer but its all about sports.

Sri Lankan are crazy about volleyball but their national cricket team is widely followed, having developed itself into a global power, winning the 1996 World Cup and winning the Asian Cup in 1996 and 2004. The island nation of 20 million has had its share of troubles in dealing with an ongoing insurgency and being hit hard by the 2004 tsunami but when the Lions take the field, they always have something to cheer for.

Today, on their way into the stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, the team bus was ambushed for a sustained 30 minutes in an attack which killed five policemen and injured eight Sri Lankan national team players, coaches, and an umpire. To put yourself into a Sri Lankan sports fan’s shoes, this was like having the American national basketball, soccer and baseball teams attacked and injured while on their way to a match abroad against a top opponent.

This was a dark days for sports, which are supposed to transcend political differences. Its not yet known exactly why the team was attacked but those who launch such cowardly acts should know that the spirit of friendly sports competition is too durable for them to overcome.

Letters from Vagabondia expresses our condolences to the families of the brave Pakistani policemen who gave their lives defending the Sri Lankan team, the players, coaches, and families of the Sri Lankan team, their Pakistani opponents who were waiting to continue their test match against them, and the families of the killed and injured referees from Australia.

And finally, hats off the Sri Lankan team’s bus driver, Mehar Mohammad Khalil, whose quick wits saved the lives of the entire team as he stepped on the gas pedal and drove the team to safety. The driver of the trailing bus which was carring the referees was killed along with one of the Australian officials he was carrying.

So, if you’re feeling blue that your team is not doing so well or think your life is tough since you don’t get along with your coach, spare a thought for those in Lahore tonight who just want a chance to play.

Jai Khalil! Jai Sport!

India Gunning For A Place In The 2011 Asian Cup

August 7, 2008

I recall many conversations with European friends who would often remark that once America (with its 300 million people) went crazy for soccer, we could become a dominant force. I usually reminded them that if it were purely a matter of population size, India and China would be wiping the floor with all of us. As rising soccer nations such the United States, Canada, and Australia have learned, it takes a good development system, good coaching at all levels, a professional league, many years, and lots of luck to arrive on the world stage.

While the Chinese men’s team has seen steady improvement over the years and their women continue to fill the trophy case, what about India? While India has produced some world class cricket players, mountaineers, and golfers, it is now coming out of a long dry spell in producing quality soccer players. Not since the golden era of 1950s and 1960s has India been a power in Asian soccer. During that time, they won the Asian championships in 1951 and finished fourth at the 1956 Olympics. They later won the 1962 Asian Games Gold medal, and reached the semi-finals in the next two Asian Games tournaments before their star started to fade.

But things are starting to turn around for Indian soccer, starting with the signing of Bhaichung Bhutia at English side Bury in 1999; the first Indian soccer player to sign for a European side. He played in 37 matches, scoring three goals before returning to India to play for Mohun Bagan. Most recently, a positive step has been the launch of the 12 team I-League in 2007, which replaced the fading National Football League. Some major changes are the inclusion of four foreigners per team plus a national television contract and league sponsor.

Another big step was in 2006 when the All-Indian Football Federation (AIFF) hired English coach Bob Houghton to guide the national team, also known as the Bhangra Boys. Speaking on the development of the I-League, Houghton told the Indian media; “That’s why it is very important to have I-League in place. We have to make sure that more Indian boys play at the top professional level week in and out. We have some boys in the national team who have hardly played any matches for their clubs.”

And India is also building a youth program with an eye on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Houghton added that “The qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup will start from 2015 and that is seven years from now. The under-19 team will be 26, under-16 will be 23 and under-14 will be 21. So these three teams will be absolutely central in qualification for the 2018 World Cup. So there is a possibility because the good thing about it is that we have got the start and we have to carry on with it.”

Currently, India is looking strong in the AFC Challenge Cup which they are favored to win. Led by Bhutia, who has 40 goals in 57 appearances for India, the Bhangra Boys just beat Turkmenestan 2-1 (both goals by Bhutia) to win group A and book themselves a place in the semifinals. Bhutia is supported up front by up-and-coming striker Sunil Chetri and served by a solid midfield. Now, they are set to face Myanmar for a place in the final in Hyderabad to play either North Korea or Tajikistan. If they manage to win it all, they’ll earn direct qualification to play in the Asian Cup 2011 finals – a great opportunity for this sleeping giant which may be starting to awaken.

All I can say is Jai India!