India put up a brave fight before going down 2-4 against a determined Palestine side in a friendly match on Wednesday

The top-tier of the gallery was almost empty, not to mention the many vacant chairs. The low turnout was a pity considering the high-octane Palestine-India clash on Wednesday served out a goal fest for football fans. The keenly fought international football friendly saw Palestine defeat India 4-2 at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here.

However, the crowd that partially filled up the stadium not only saved the Kerala Football Association the blushes but also created the kind of atmosphere associated with an international match.

Their vociferous support for the exciting moves of the Indian team sometimes matched the support the Indian cricket team captain M.S. Dhoni got from the crowd for his helicopter shots at the same venue hardly a month ago.

But on that day there were big screens on the stands for spectators to recapture those shots if they had missed it. There was no such luxury for football fans who missed the goals in the blink of an eye, leaving no one in doubt about which sport came up in the pecking order. The lack of enough crowds also meant that the Mexican waves never really hit the shore as during the cricket match. However, the occasional lightning and the cool breeze that swept across the ground provided the perfect setting for the game as the temperature dipped by many notches.

The stadium first erupted when the Indian team took an early lead. An ecstatic fan could not control his joy as he ran right in to the middle of the pitch and shook hands with Indian players, sparking off a chase by policemen.

The crowd showed its sportive spirit when they applauded as the Palestinians scored level not much later. The Indians surged ahead just before half time only to lose the advantage in the early stages of the second half.A hush swept the stadium when the Palestinians took the lead for the first time and then netted one more. There was some consolation for the home fans as coach Wim Koevermans unleashed the Malayali player Vineet C.K. towards the end of the second half in a desperate attempt to win back the initiative.

The crowd set a model for hooligans, who bring disrepute to the game, by applauding the Palestinian victory when the referee blew the final whistle.

Earlier, both the teams were received with loud applause as they emerged from the dressing rooms for the warm-up. The biggest cheer was reserved for Indian captain Sunil Chhetri.

The loud music blaring out from speakers, placed right next to the media and VIP boxes, before the match and the half time turned out to be a big nuisance as people had to scream to make themselves heard. The police, who were left undisturbed for the most part, had some work to do after the end of the match. They were called in to shoo away overenthusiastic fans who invaded the pitch.

They started playing shadow football and swinging from the crossbar. The low turnout also meant that the police did not have to sweat out much to control traffic before or after the match.

Heartening support for Palestinians

Palestinian footballers will definitely miss this city. For, the fans who turned up to watch the match on Wednesday not just appreciated the Palestinians’ flair for the game but expressed solidarity with the harsh realities they faced in their everyday lives.

Alongside Palestinian flags that fluttered in the stands were posters of the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. Fans also raised banners lauding the Palestinian footballers for braving hardships outside the football pitch.

A group of students from Malappuram was more vocal in their support for Palestine as they came clad in white t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Free Gaza Free Palestine.”

Amin said that as students of Islamic Economics and Finance it was only natural for them to closely follow the fortunes of the Palestinians.

“Forget the religious affiliation, don’t you think that it’s a huge human catastrophe that people across the world should be concerned about,” asked Fasal.

Nissar felt that while it was good to enjoy and appreciate the skills of the Palestinian footballers, people should not forget the hardships they go through to showcase their talent.

“This is an international match that reaches a global audience. So why not use it to draw attention to the everyday realities of Palestinians in general and those in Gaza reeling under the repressive regime of Israel,” asked Asif.

Rasheed and his friends who held aloft a picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat shared similar sentiments. The banner they displayed saluted the indomitable spirit of the footballers who pursued their passion despite the odds.

Though they were visibly moved by the commitment of the Palestinian team, the group did not fail to show their support to the Indian team. They attached the Tricolour to the banner, which wished the best to the national team. And that exemplified the spirit in which the match was played.

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