METRO PLUS

A passion unmatched

HONING THE SKILLS Participants had to dribble the ball past a horde of obstacles

HONING THE SKILLS Participants had to dribble the ball past a horde of obstacles  

Adriano and Ronaldinho might have dazzled at the recently held Confederations Cup in Germany, but it was the turn of the likes of Anto Santhosh, Jenny Freddy, Jashanpreet Singh and Jonathan Menezes to test their footballing skills at the Nike Play To Win contest.

The deft dribble, the swerving chip and the dreaded dead ball chips were all on show at the Rajendra Singhji Institute (RSI) grounds. These tricks when performed by the Beckhams and the Ballacks, elicit roars of appreciation and it was the same at RSI. The audience couldn't take their eyes off the ball.

The passion which football generates is probably unmatched by any other world sport and it was evident when six-year-olds turned up to try their luck in the under-17 category. Many of them travelled from far off cities just to take part and enjoy every moment of the game that they so passionately endorse. The example of Jitin Sajan's father driving his lorry 400-plus kilometres in pouring rains from Kochi to deliver his son's birth certificate is enough to convince. He did it so that his son wouldn't miss out on a golden opportunity, while Sumit's brother travelled along from Hyderabad to Mumbai and again to Bangalore as his little brother "knew only one language — football."

The contests ranged from guiding and dribbling the ball past a horde of obstacles, to juggling (showing mastery over ball control) and facing off in one-on-one situations to score goals, all for the grand prize which was a chance to witness an English Premier League match in an all-expense paid trip.

The contest caravan moved across seven cities — from Bangalore (about 200 participants) to Kochi (2,700 participants), Kolkata (220), Goa (2,500), Mumbai (225, Chandigarh (520), Delhi (250 partcicpants) and finally back to Bangalore for the grand finale. The whole exercise took over five weekends. Two boys, winners from the under-17 and under-21 categories from each of the seven centres qualified for the final along with four lucky losers, selected from all over and four wild cards from Bangalore as host, participated in the final.

This was the moment the lads had waited for and there was no looking back. Paulson Mathai of Kochi juggled and kept juggling the T-90 balls, till the "pigeons came home!" The 19-year-old student virtually kept the ball glued to his feet by juggling over 10,000 times. It was sheer magic. Bangalore's own Soumesh almost emulated Paulson's feat but dropped the ball while on the verge of going one better.

P.A. Anto Santosh got the biggest cheer and the stylish 16-year-old proved his mettle with some deft chips through a suspended tyre and around a wooden charpoy to chip the ball past a brick wall and into the small makeshift goal. The celebrations were deafening when he won the under-17 category alongside Chandigarh's Jashanpreet Singh. From the obstacle event to the juggling ring, Paulson and Soumesh, who seemed to continue forever, hogged the show.

And then it came to the `big' one. The one on one tested the overall skill of the player. He not only had to double as the goalkeeper but also score as many goals as possible against his opponent, and all this in three minutes. The scorer of the most number of goals was the winner. And to top the under-17 and under-21 teams faced off for a three-on-three match with provision for a substitute. This turned out to be a humdinger. And for the four Anto Santosh and Jashanpreet Singh in the under-17 and Jenny Freddy and Jonathan Menezes in the under-21 the effort and toil surely had a fitting prize — watching the EPL match.

As for the organisers Sukhwinder Singh, a former Gujarat Santosh trophy player, Bulbul Khera, Vina Shenoy and Sanjay Gangopadhya, Nike's Director, Marketing, they deserve a special pat on the back for putting up such an event.

AVINASH NAIR

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