Special Correspondent

The Nehru Cup is being revived after a decade

The 170th-ranked Cambodia is at full strength

NEW DELHI: Floodlights, not football, is the novelty at the Ambedkar Stadium. The football turf, close to the old city, has witnessed better stuff in the years gone by, than what lies in store in the Nehru Cup that commences on Friday with India taking on Cambodia.

An international tournament that once attracted giants like Argentina, Poland, Uruguay and Hungary, not to forget the mighty Soviet Union, has lost much of its sheen. It boasted of editions when players like Buruchaga, Careca, Smolarek scorched the field.

Convenient way

But there is a change, necessitated from projecting a pleasant image of Indian football. Being revived after a decade, it has conveniently invited teams that would not embarrass the Indians in front of home supporters.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has done its bit to revitalise the game in the country by procuring the services of Bob Houghton, a thoroughly professional coach from England.

Glamour has been sacrificed to accommodate teams that India can look to dominate. Houghton’s only grudge against the system has been “lack of opportunities” and he cannot be faulted since the team played just three matches last year.

There has been a distinct change in the game’s administration as players have had abundant opportunities to turn out for the national team, leaving their respective clubs in deep frustration.

Reasons for optimism

The fans would expect the moon from the players, who understandably face pressure to perform. There is reason for the home camp to be optimistic too.

Syria is here with seven key players from the team not making it due to engagements in their national league and preparation for the Asian Zone World Cup qualifiers. Syria (113) enjoys a better FIFA ranking than India (162).

Krygystan, ranked ten places above India, is a depleted combination with ten top players staying back to participate in the National championship. Some of its players are engaged in the league in the Gulf.

Best chance

The 170-ranked Cambodia is at full strength. Coach Scott O’Donell, an Australian, confessed, “This is our best chance to get international exposure. We play a match every third day. Back home it is one game in 12 days.”

The fifth team in the competition, Bangladesh, is ranked ten places below the host nation and is coached by Syed Naeemuddin, former India coach.

The decked-up venue beckons the Indians to showcase their best under an astute coach.

For Baichung Bhutia, the recent tour to Portugal had been a learning experience that could prove beneficial over the next few days.

It is time the team revived some interest for the game as sponsors and the federation come together to give it a stage to achieve its dreams.

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