SPORT

Bright start to India's campaign

India's M. Suresh heads home his team's second goal past the Rwanda goalkeeper in the Afro-Asian Games football event at the Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad on Wednesday. India won 3-1. — Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

India's M. Suresh heads home his team's second goal past the Rwanda goalkeeper in the Afro-Asian Games football event at the Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad on Wednesday. India won 3-1. — Photo: Mohammed Yousuf  

India 3, Rwanda 1

HYDERABAD OCT. 22. The rain relented and the sun peeped out of the dense cloud for some time before the floodlights took over. No matter the slushy conditions, it turned out to be a bright moment for India as it found the winning touch straightaway.

The men who made the victory possible were I.M. Vijayan (13th minute), M. Suresh (53rd) and substitute Ashim Biswas (78th). Rwanda's consolation effort came from substitute Balinda Aziz (61st).

No one who had seen the waterlogged Lal Bahadur stadium believed that this Group `A' match was possible. But the efficient groundstaff and nature's mercy combined to ensure that the football event of the Afro-Asian games got underway. However, the conditions were quite difficult for the players.

Slipping and skating, it did not take long before most of them were bathed in the slush. The game went on and the focus was on adaptability. India acquainted itself better after the early uncertainty and the win was the much-needed tonic that left the football fraternity and the fans smiling.

The Rwandan coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, while admitting that his first impression of Indian football was good, confessed that his boys were not equipped to deal with the occasion. "They did not have the right boots too," he said. That certainly made a big difference given the fact that the Africans showed speed, skill and pattern but got bogged down by the `speed breakers' that the pools of water proved to be.

Those initial minutes showed the Rwandans, most of whom are amateurs as the professionals are doing duty in European clubs, in full flight. The kick-off saw Jimmy Iraguha charging in and goalkeeper Sangaram Mukherjee did an awkward lunge to grab the ball and thwart danger.

Then followed a blast from Olivier that flew past the rectangle. In 10 minutes, Sangaram's jersey had changed colour thanks to the dives and acrobatics he did on the wet turf. Tomba first tested Rwandan goalkeeper Mossi before he gave the opportunity for the wily Vijayan to grab and finish with a neat placement. The Kerala star may have lost the speed but not the nose for goals.

Rwanda, down by a goal, had more reason to be disappointed when Olivier, with Sangram off charge, failed to beat Satish Bharti on the goalline (26th minute).

Rennedy's flag kick in the second session brought India its second goal with Suresh at the goalmouth finding the header to the roof.

Rwanda hit back through substitute Michel, who made a classic volley off Jimmy's cross from far. But the joy was shortlived as the Indians kept surging. Star player Baichung Bhutia may not have scored but did enough with his clever runs to inspire his colleagues.

Biswas, who replaced Vijayan, struck a long pass off substitute James as Mossi remained a spectator. Everything clicked for India and that was what mattered for coach Stephen Constantine.

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