Rediff Navigator Sports
Information Entertainment Online

The Football Column/K Bhaskaran

Counting chickens before the eggs are laid

The week between the semi-final and the final of the Kalyani Black Label Cup apparently brought some sanity to the organisers, the All-India Football Federation, the Indian Football Association (West Bengal) and the Salt Lake Stadium authorities.

For the tense first meeting of the current season on Sunday last week between arch rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, there were around 140,000 spectators -- about 8,000 of whom had got into the stands by scaling three of the gates of the stadium and without tickets -- according to Colonel Soumitra Roy of the Salt Lake stadium.

Colonel Roy, in particular, reportedly was very keen to bask in reflected glory by having the attendance of 131,781 in the Guiness Book of World Records as a record for a match between two clubs anywhere in the world. In my last column I had pointed out that the bid was fraught with dangers. Perhaps Colonel Roy, the AIFF and the IFA have in the interim got wise to the risks of sanctions by the Federation Internationale de Football Association for ignoring safeguards for the safety of the fans, players and officials through exceeding the capacity.

For the final between East Bengal and their eventual conquerors, Salgaocar Sports Club of Goa, at the same stadium on Sunday this week, the stadium was packed but only to the capacity of 110,000. The television commentators kept repeating that there were over a hundred thousand spectators, without ever giving the exact figures. This turnout is the second best for any match in the country, for a domestic competition as well as for an international match.

This turn out is also more impressive than the 131,781 for the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan encounter, as the battles between the two Calcutta giants invariably draw capacity crowds, be it in Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Kerala or any other part of the country. But a match between one of these two Calcutta teams and another from other parts of the country does not ensure such following.

Of course, East Bengal's 4-1 victory over Mohun Bagan had their supporters on such a high that they turned out at the Salt Lake stadium for the final in full strength so as not to miss out on what they hoped would be an encore. A long delayed celebration, what is more, after defeats in the the two previous finals to Jagatjit Cotton and Textiles Mills, the current Phillips National League champions.

Even the neutral followers of the game in Calcutta and the rest of the country believed that the huge crowd, the rains and the heavy conditions underfoot will stack the odds too heavily against Salgaocar. In the event, however, at least one of these factors told against East Bengal -- the great expectations of their legion of supporters proving too heavy a cross for the players to bear. Against Mohun Bagan, they were not so heavily fancied, and hence maybe were able to dish out superlative fare. But against Salgaocar, believed their backers, East Bengal just could not lose.

But not long after the kick off, it was clear that the home team was more tense than their rivals from Goa. And the brilliant goal by Bruno Coutinho just past the quarter hour underscored this. Had Jude Odegah not lost his nerve and muffed up the easiest chance of the match just before the interval, East Bengal would have been virtually demoralised.

The Nigerian's lapse prompted East Bengal to believe that Lady Luck could be on their side, and they attacked with some gusto after the interval. For the first time in the game, Salgaocar's defence and midfield were rocked on their heels, but they fought doggedly to keep their citadel intact.

Fatigue through playing on the heavy ground, perhaps, caused Salgaocar to make mistakes in their own half and to lose the initiative. Else how could the leaving of the Kenyan skipper and left stopper of East Bengal, Samuel Omollo, unmarked close to where the ball had been crossed be explained? Omello made no mistake with his header.

If East Bengal now felt they would be able to build on the equaliser with a golden goal in extra time, they were disillusioned swiftly by Coutinho. The Indian and Salgaocar skipper's second goal of the final, which made him joint top scorer of the tournament with Chima Okerie, was not in the same class as his first. More, as it was covered at the near post by goalkeeper Azande, its finding the net was a very bitter disappointment to the vast multitude.

For Salgaocar, who went empty-handed last season except for their triumph in the Rovers Cup, their third victory in this tournament in six appearances in the final augurs well for the coming season. Their new coach, T K Chathunni, and technical director, former Olympian T Shanmugham, coach of their winning teams of 1988 and 1989, had been on opposite sides in 1990 when the latter was bidding for a hat trick of successes. Chathunni guided Kerala Police in frustrating that bid at Thrissur.

Now Chathunni and Shammugham have joined forces again. With more or less the same squad that suffered through injuries and illnesses and weary travel in the Phillips National League campaign in January-March, they have worked hard to make the players fit and raring to go. Both have seen Indian football at close quarters for long years, and so know what it takes to achieve good results. With the octogenarian Shamugham's guidance, Chathunni had drilled his players into a combination not only feared but also admired for both fitness and attractive and effective play.

Both are also eminently level headed, with Chathunni proving this to the hilt in the week before the final as the Calcutta press sought to probe him for views on East Bengal players and officials. The former India centre-back, perhaps, saw through the game and cleverly gave out that he felt that with technical director P K Banerjee at the helm and Bhaichung Bhutia as the lethal spearhead, East Bengal would win. But, he said, his team would give a fight.

His team did exactly that. And came out on top!

E-mail Mail the Sports Editor

Home | News | Business | Cricket | Movies | Chat
Travel | Life/Style | Freedom | Infotech

Copyright 1997 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved