As I was browsing through the articles in B/R, I was surprised that there were so many Indians in this site following football and none of them have written any article about the recent Nehru Cup victory or about the footballing history or the achievements of India. (Though "minisculest" by international standards, it's something great as far as India is concerned because football hardly gets any support from the Government here and many great footballers who have won medals for India in the Asian Games in the 1950s currently live in the slums. Such is the condition of football and footballers in India. Some of them sold their medals even but still live on one meal a day. Well done, Government of India!)
If anyone has written an article previously about this, I am really sorry that I wrote this one because I didn't come across your article as far as I had searched. Please do share that article with me in case you have written about this.
Pardon me for deviating, but I want to explain to you all how good a footballing nation India once was, before I mention about India's victory. Skip this part if you want to. (though I suggest you read it to know about the slow death of football in India and it's current revival).
A brief introduction about how football fell from grace in India. In the 1950s, India had drawn France 1-1, once, and had beaten few European teams (which are pretty decent by International standards now) . India qualified for the 1950 WC, which they abandoned because they were not allowed to play barefoot. (Pretty stupid , ain't it? Had they bought those frigging boots and went on to play, Indian football would have taken a different course altogether). And till the 1980s, it had a decent patronage . After India won the 1983 Cricket WC, Indians abandoned football(as well as hockey) for good and shifted to cricket .
By the way, I have to mention this. Durand Cup is the third oldest club competition in the world after the FA Cups in England and Scotland and IFA(Indian F'ball Association) Shield is the fourth oldest in the world ! Some of the football clubs in India are older than their counterparts in Europe and South America !
So, basically India's footballing history is basically a riches to rags story and is kind of an anti-climax to a passionate Indian football fan. :(
Anyways , moving to the main story.
Nehru Cup or the ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Commission) Nehru Cup is an Int'l f'ball tourney conducted by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), held once every 2 years . Started in 1982, it was not held from 1998 to 2007. This tournament was started to popularise football in India. 5 teams are invited for this tournament.
The first time the hosts won this one was in 2007 beating a strong and an arrogant Syria side, the side to which they lost in the group stages, with a goal from Pradeep in the 44th min. And it sure evoked a lot of football craze among the youth in India
The 2009 edition featured India (hosts), Syria, Kyrgyzstan,Lebanon and Sri Lanka and was held in the Ambedkar stadium in Delhi. The stadium was jam packed for every Indian match (surprisingly!).
Though India got to a bad start with a 0-1 loss to Lebanon, they gathered enough motivation to beat Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka. The last group match, however, they lost to a more talented Syrian side.
The finals was held on August 31 between Syria and India . What made the match more interesting was the repeated insults the Syrian coach, Fajir Ibrahim hurled at the Indian team by saying things like he is planning to rest his best players against India in the final and going on to say even worse things like they could beat India with seven of their players . :O Syria has a better FIFA ranking than India, agreed but it doesn't give them the right to insult a team downright, does it ?
But in the finals, Syria paid for underestimating the opponent. Indians sure made life tough for them and forced the match into extra time , something which the Syrian coach would not have expected, even after fielding his strong 11!
As things turned out, India scored in the 114th minute and it seemed like they were on their way to a historic win (by Indian standards that is!) but in the 3rd minute of injury time (123') Syria scored the equaliser with the last kick of the ball to force a penalty shootout which they lost due to the heroics of a certain man called Subrata Pal, the Indian goal-keeper. The shot-stopper was amazing and is definitely good enough to play in some league in the Gulf or the Far East or a 3rd division side in any league in Europe.
And an honorable mention must go to the Indian coach, Bob Houghton for trying to transform this team from a hopeless one to a side good enough to challenge sides in Asia with the limited resources and support he gets.(India won the AFC Challenge Cup in 2008 and automatically qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2011 in which North Korea, which is an Asian heavyweight, will participate too.)
And last but not the least, how can I forget to mention this being a passionate Barcelona fan :D . India had a month of training at the Camp Nou prior to the start of this tournament and guess what , it paid rich dividends and they won the Nehru Cup. Camp Nou, indeed, has the touch of Midas. \m/
Velga India!!(Come on, India!! - in my language)