“Hey man, you must call me next time to compete in your tournament, I have to win that one”
Carlos Bilardo, 1986 World Cup winning Argentine coach to Ashok Ghosh, AIFF General Secretary after Argentina had failed to win the 1984 Nehru Cup.
Bilardo’ words indeed indicate the importance that was attached with Nehru Cup in those days. In 2007 when the Nehru Cup was re-started after a ten year long absence, it was indeed a positive step for the football in the country. Nehru Cup, India ‘s premier football event, had been started in 1982 with an aim to give football fans a taste of international football and also give the national team a chance to play with the world’s best. Sadly, with the sport declining, the event stopped in 1997. The star attraction this time would be Cameroon football team after the AIFF managed to convince them to play.
The playing field in the 2007 and 2009 editions has been strictly ordinary with nations ranked even lower than India competing but things were not the same in the past. TheHardTackle rewinds the clock to the 1980s and takes a look at several World Cup stars who were a part of the Nehru Cup and also takes a look at who won those editions of the Nehru Cup.
1982 Nehru Cup – Uruguay Team Attracts Crowd
The inaugural edition of the Nehru Cup was held in Kolkata from 16th February to 2nd March by the AIFF and the IFA and featured Uruguay, South Korea, China, host India along with an amateur Italian team and Yugoslavia B team. The Uruguay team was the star attraction and featured several of the World Cuppers. Indian Government even released a postal stamp to mark the event which was inaugrated by then Prime Minister Indra Gandhi.
Uruguay’ s attacking midfielder Enzo Francescoli was the star attraction and he mesmerized the Kolkata crowd with his delicate skills and sleak movement. Francescoli represented his nation in 1986 and the 1990 World Cups and won 3 Copa America titles in 1983, 1987 and 1995. Francescoli scored two goals in the tournament as Uruguay went on to win the event defeating China 2-0 in the final.
Venancio Ramos nicknamed as Chicharra was another star player from the South American contingent who became an instant hit with the fans in India with his intelligent game and played a key role in Uruguay’ s triumph. Jorge Da Silva , the striker who scored the all important opening goal in the final was another popular player at that time.
The Indian national team was coached by PK Bannerjee and included the likes of Shabbir Ali and Aloke Mukherjee but it finished second from bottom winning only one match. Manas Bhattacharya who scored three goals in the campaign was one of the standout performers for India.
1984 Nehru Cup – A Galaxy of stars Descend in India
After a relatively quiet 1983 Nehru Cup in Kochi, it was the 1984 Nehru Cup held again in the football heartland of India – Kolkata, that brought some of the most renowned players in the world and firmly established Nehru Cup as one of the most important football tournaments. The tournament which featured 5 teams – Argentina, China, Poland, Romania U-21 and a team from Hungary. Host India ended the tournament on a sour note as they failed to win even a single match.
The Indian team consisted players like Krishanu Dey, Biswajit Bhattacharya, Prasanta Banerjee and Shabbir Ali. Biswajit Bhattacharya scored the only goal scored by India in the tournament. Argentina however, was the main attraction for the fans.
Managed by the great Carlos Bilardo, who would go on to coach Argentina to back to back World Cup finals in 1986 and 1990, winning in 1986, the team consisted of a plethora of stars. Jorge Burruchaga who scored the winner in 1986 World Cup final thrilled the Indian crowd with soem magnificent performances during. Defender Jose Luis Brown, who also was an integral member of 1986 World Cup winning team, made his presence felt in the 1984 Nehru Cup.
The Polish team which went on to lift the cup also had a lot of prominent players who drew a lot of people to the grounds. Andrzej Buncol who reperesented Poland in 1982 (where Poland finished third) and 1986 World Cup was one of the star players in the Nehru Cup 1984. The midfielder scored an important goal against Argentina in the tournament.Włodzimierz Smolarek , one of the most highly rated Polish players entertained the crowd with his fast paced game and helped his nation lift the 1984 Nehru Cup.
Laszlo Kiss was part of the Hungarian team and the prolific striker played in 1982 World cup and went on to become the first substitute player to score three goals in a World Cup match. The biggest attraction, however, was Bobby Moore, the legendary English defender who made an appearance as the Chief Guest in the final. Moor captained England to the 1966 World Cup triumph and had been hailed as on of the greatest defenders by Pele. He drew in a large crowd for the final as people thronged the stadium to have a glimpse of the iconic player. 1984 Nehru Cup was undoubtedly the pinnacle of football events organized in India and will always remain etched in the hearts of Indian Football fans
1986 Nehru Cup – Soviet Union and Peru steal the show
The 1986 Nehru Cup held in Trivadarium was again a six team affair with China, Peru, East Germany Olympic team , a USSR and a South Korea University team. The team from Soviet Union despite being a B team featured 5 World Cup players who played in the 1986 World Cup. These were Sergey Krakovskiy, Andrey Bal, Vasiliy Rats, Vadim Yevtushenko and Igor Belanov. Yevtushenko was in fine form throughout the tournament as he scored 6 goals to ensure that Soviet Union won the tournament. Belanov and Bal also scored two goals and the Soviet Union team were indeed a treat to watch for the Kerala fans.
The Indian football however again disappointed as they managed only one draw in the tournament. The team coached by PK Bannerjee featured the likes of Mauricio Afonso,Brahmanand Shankwalkar, Krishnendu Roy and V.P. Sathyan. The Indian team failed to score even once much to the disappointment of the home fans.
The Peru squad was also a mix of youth and experience but Franco Navarro dished out some impressive performances. The striker who played in the 1982 World Cup scored 2 goals in the Nehru Cup and became an instant hit among the fans.
Nehru Cup indeed has a glorious past but since 2007 the quality of participating teams has left a lot to be desired. With AIFF roping in Cameroon for this edition of the Nehru cup, the football fans will hope for some good quality football from the African World Cuppers and hopefully this will attract even better footballing nations for the future editions.