Footfalls at Nehru Stadium have thinned. The stands are silent most time of the year. Movements on the football turf are restricted too. The ghostly ambience is a reflection of the sport as football craves for attention in the Capital.

The Ambedkar Stadium is time and again ravaged by political outings and the Nehru Stadium is a grim reminder of the sluggish progress that football has made for many decades now.

The Nehru Cup, starting on August 22, brings football action of some kind to the Nehru Stadium. Ambedkar Stadium would have been an ideal venue for this tournament. If Bob Houghton had continued as coach, we would have travelled to the Ambedkar Stadium in old Delhi.

Instead, the event will now be staged at a swanky venue, even though the game, sadly, may not match the glossy conditions.

Indian football faces a daunting task under new coach Wim Koevermans, the former Dutch international expected to work miracles. He is not singing any eulogies other than making basic encouraging observations. He knows his job and begins it with a stern test at the Nehru Cup.

In a team game, it is rare for individuals to dominate and India clearly falls woefully short in this area. There is not an individual to step into the shoes of the redoubtable Baichung Bhutia.

Inexperienced

India will be without now-retired Mahesh Gawli and Climax Lawrence. Which means it will be without experience. It will also be without striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. Which means it will also be without its young powerhouse. The new coach brings new ideas and concepts and the trick lies in how quickly the team adapts and responds.

The emphasis here is on untiring legs and possession football. Koevermans has rightly picked the highly rated Alwyn George and the promising Manandeep Singh. These two gifted forwards figure prominently in the coach’s scheme of things and bring quality to the team’s campaign.

Interesting times lie ahead for the coach and his pupils as India gingerly steps into a vital phase of its football renaissance.

The SAFF Cup triumph late last year had stoked football passions but not to the extent that one can expect the tackling and interceptions of the Indians to counter those of the opposition.

Cameroon and Syria bring a touch of mystique to their fare. Flair to attack gives Cameroon and Syria a highly commendable reputation and the Indians would be under intense pressure when up against them. An inch conceded could assume disastrous proportions.

It is this ferocity in their ranks that make Cameroon and Syria worthy aspirants to the title.

Nepal and Maldives are not really unknown forces. They can be lethal in their own way. They can be hugely unpredictable and don’t just make up the numbers.

Nepal and Maldives belong to this tournament and one can look forward to some exciting stuff from these two teams.

All matches are to be played under lights with the hope that this might ensure an increase in footfalls at the Nehru Stadium.

The schedule (Matches start at 7 p.m.): Aug 22: India v Syria; Aug 23: Maldives v Nepal; Aug 24: Syria v Cameroon; Aug 25: India v Maldives; Aug 26: Nepal v Cameroon; Aug 27: Maldives v Syria; Aug 28: India v Nepal; Aug 29: Cameroon v Maldives; Aug 30: Syria v Nepal; Aug 31: India v Cameroon; Sept 2: Final.

Keywords: Nehru Cup

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