On a nostalgic mode, I wish to share my experience of the Nehru Cup triumph in the 2007 edition…
India was destined to win her maiden Nehru Cup back in 2007, in front of 20,000 crowds in the Ambedkar Stadium on a humid Wednesday evening. All the elements were in their favour.
Two Goal.com articles had predicted an Indian win; Bob Houghton came perfectly suited and booted; crowds went wild once the kick-off commenced; Indian flags were fluttering aplenty; the posters had names of Sunil Chhetri and Bhaichung Bhutia; and the best poster screamed “We want Sweet Revenge”.
Revenge it was and sweet it was! N.P. Pradeep’s bullet from the edge of the box in 44th minute had much bigger impact to Indian football, as it made its debut to the news flashes and tickers in the 25 odd regional and national news channels that night. It did dawn a new era, where we saw the team qualify for the Asian Cup (first time in 25 years) by winning the AFC Challenge Cup ‘08.
On that historical night, Subrata Paul was outstanding, Steven Dias and N.P. Pradeep dictated the flanks, Mahesh Gawli marshalled his defences – all this, while the Syrians lost cool and a man. It didn’t even matter that Bhaichung had missed open chances, what mattered was that, India played stylish possession football.
It became irrelevant that Syrians were an aggressive unit with larger framed players (the common excuse India gives while losing); what mattered was that India were bold and controlled the match. It didn’t even matter that the post-match presentation host was stumbling with words and introductions, what mattered was that Bhaichung Bhutia got louder cheers than a current cricketer who was standing in the overcrowded dais.
It didn’t matter that the presentation ceremony was shoddy to say the least; the All India Football Federation (AIFF) have to be given bouquets for arranging a pre-tournament Portugal tour and also announcing cash bonuses to the winning team, equivalent of the tournament prize money (USD 40K). As a footnote, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit also announced addition of USD 12K to the winning team’s bonus kitty!
Once again, I whole heartedly thank the 20,000 odd lucky Delh-ites for coming out and cheering India to a famous milestone with their closest friends, noisy bugles, irritating whistles, colourful turbans, jingoistic bhangra, creative slogans, bare chested swinging their white shirts in the air and hoarse lung power. The national team needed it all … and deserved it all.