A Mexican wave engulfed Nehru Stadium stands as Sunil Chettri calmly slotted the spot kick past a diving Cameroonian Goalkeeper to restore parity. New Delhi’s picturesque Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium experienced something it had not witnessed since Baichung Bhutia’s farewell match, where India faced the Bayern Munich Challenge in the Audi Cup, jam packed stands.
As the emcee in the post match presentation ceremony chanted “Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega”, the mere fact, that India had managed to pull out a rabbit from the hat and managed to clinch a third successive Nehru Cup title, worked the crowd into delirium . Yes, it was déjà vu indeed for many fans as India got the better of a team much superior to them in terms of FIFA rankings in the Nehru Cup final, and that too on penalties. It was Syria in past two editions and Cameroon obliged past Sunday.
India’s terrific fight back in second half of the final, accompanied by five clinical penalties does paint a rosy picture. The Blue Tigers showcased a lot of character to come from behind, under pressure in front of a massive thirty thousand crowd to win the tie. This indeed has been portrayed as the dawn of a new beginning by the Indian football faithful. But this change is yet to be translated to the even of the national football team facing a quality opposition. This can be attested by the fact that India dropped a place further in the rankings, now at 169, thanks to unprofessional scheduling by AIFF. This might raise many an eyebrow, but one needs to look at the tournament closely to figure out that it was inevitable. TheHardTackle takes a closer look at the Nehru Cup, the way tournament was brought onto the plate of the Indian football fanatics and some points for AIFF to ponder upon.
The Embarrassing Crowd Turn Outs
Barring the final, all the India matches witnessed an embarassing turn out. The level touched a new low during the India-Nepal match when Indian fans were outdone by the Nepali counterparts when it came to hitting highdecibels. The million dollar question is –“Who will pay Rs. 150 to see India play Nepal?”. Well, it is quite evident that Indian football is nowhere near to attract crowds on its own. What AIFF needs to figure out is how to get more crowds, especially younger fans, to watch these matches. Things like free tickets to school children on match days could invoke some interest. Pune FC is a massive example on how to draw crowds to the stadium, their tie up with Infosys Pune has led to healthy turn out in big games. It doesn’t take much to impress kids, especially at an age where an idol colonizes its own special place in the heart and mind. A Sunil Chettri headed goal against Maldives could have done the trick.
The Story Of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Many believe that the Nehru Cup moved from Ambedkar Stadium to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for good. Let us throw some light on the various drawbacks, which were conveniently ignored by AIFF while planning the tournament.
1) The drainage system of the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium is dismal. So much so, that the encounter between India and Syria had to be halted so that the grounds men could upgrade the ground condition from a pathetic level to a playable level. Usually the pitch is prepared with a fifteen cm inch sand layer on top, in order to allow seepage of water. The same thing is not present at the JLN.
2) Stands at JLN stadium are far away from the pitch (due to the track). This minimizes crowd’s impact on the match, unlike the situation at the Ambedkar, where the crowd is virtually the twelfth man on the pitch. Sparse crowds placed away from the action adds shame to the misery.
3) The Ambedkar stadium is known for a healthy crowd turn up. Even the Durand Cup final between Air India and Dodsal FC was able to draw a substantial crowd, more than that at India-Nepal.
4) The handling of the crowd at the JLN stadium was very unprofessional to say the least. AIFF was not in sync with the ticket providers (Kyazoonga), which led to Delhi Police harassing the fans.
Quality Of Teams
The Nehru cup was viewed as an international tournament which brought teams like USSR, Uruguay, Hungary, Poland and Iraq till the late 1990’s. Nehru Cup then went into a hiatus for ten years and returned in 2007 only to realize that it had to refurbish its status from scratch. This year’s edition saw Nepal, Maldives, Syria (where domestic football is hampered due to political turmoil) and a second string Cameroon side participate. Playing and winning against these sides can only fulfill the short term goal, but the long term goals need India to play against better teams.
It was more than pitiful when people in the national capital didn’t know much about two ongoing historic tournaments, other one being Durand Cup. There was absolutely no media campaign to enlighten the people in the city especially the youth, who drive many miles to watch their favorite European clubs play in a sports bar, about both the tournaments. The media campaign would have played an important part in making Nehru Cup more successful if even a quarter of these football crazy people turned up for the matches.
The Immaculate Scheduling Of Nehru Cup
In 1888 when Durand Cup kicked off in India clubs like Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC, Real Madrid CF, AC Milan weren’t even brought into existence. It is still one of the more eagerly awaited events in Indian football calendar. It is true that this historic tournament has lost its previous attractiveness due to I-League clubs opting out of the tournament, but AIFF didn’t help the cause either when it scheduled the Nehru Cup in parallel with Durand Cup. The semi final between Assam Rifles and Dodsal FC saw a crowd of mere two hundred “doomed” people witnessing a wonderful game. The lucky ones didn’t know about it.
India did win the Nehru Cup, although playing against weaker oppositions and showed grit when challenged. Indian style of playing football has certainly shown signs of improvement. It is being reported that Dutch coach Wim Koovermans already has a Plan2022 deployed in his system. Great news !
But these are some “in the face” issues with the Nehru Cup and with Indian football in general, which demand some contemplation from AIFF. As the federation celebrates their 75th anniversary, it’s probably time it starts taking Indian football seriously.