It was what the doctor ordered. A perfect dose of medicine for the "ills", affecting Indian football which has been plaguing it for the last four decades.
Yes, the Indian footballers have carved out a historic entry into the finals of the Nehru Goal Cup Football Tournament hosted by its association in the national capital Delhi and will clash with Syria in the title deciding match on Wednesday at the Ambedkar Stadium. The tournament which has been revived by the association after a gap of nine years.
It is path breaking final entry for the Indian team, a team whose performance has not been much to rave about, in a cricket-crazy country.
India now ranked at 151 in the latest football ranking of the football governing body- FIFA, has been constantly sliding down its ranking in the football arena. India’s last medal or trophy came from the 1970 Asian Games and thereafter it has been a gradual slide which no one has been able to stop since then.
India go into the final of the Nehru Cup having lost to their opponents ranked 112 in FIFA ranking in the initial round robin league matches 3-2 and would be looking to reverse the result.
India who have been hiring foreign coaches over the years to give the game an added fillip in the country has renowned Englishman Bob Houghton as coach now at the helm of affairs. He took over in June last year and ever since has been instilling the fighting spirit in the team.
"The coach has been instrumental in changing the mindset of our players from a defensive approach to an attacking one", says mid-fielder Climax Lawrence, who plays for Dempo Sports Club, one of the ten clubs in the Indian Professional League.
His Dempo SC colleague Mahesh Gawli, another Goa-based player, a regular with the Indian team for the last six years, was happy that the team has reached the final of the Nehru Cup.
"May be this is the first of the many finals that India will play not only in the Nehru Cup but in other tournaments," he said.
The Nehru Cup named after the country’s first prime minister was first held in 1982 and Uruguay won the inaugural edition. The erstwhile Soviet Union who featured in five finals won the trophy four times and Hungary put paid to their aspirations of winning for a fifth time in a row in 1989 in the western state of India, Goa defeating them 2-1 having earlier lost to the same team in the inaugural match at the then newly-constructed Nehru Stadium at Fatorda 3-2.
The closest India came to holding a loft the Cup was in Cochin in the southern state of Kerala, where they reached the semi-finals in 1997. But other then that, the Indians have watched foreign countries come and take home the glory leaving the Indians to lick their wounds and a shattered pride.
The Indians feat of reaching the final has not got unnoticed and a cash incentive of ($18292) has been thrust upon the footballers for reaching the final by the football federation.
In Indian football system an Indian footballer gets a daily allowance of $100 per day and allowances which range from $500 to $1000 per tournament, the later which is sometimes given after a long delay.
And for the Indian footballers whose bread and butter comes from playing for the clubs, it is the pride and the national jersey which is important for them as they turn out for the country.
The national coach Houghton has praised the performance of the boys in the tournament terming it as "good for changing the face of Indian football".
"The boys have worked hard in this tournament and I am happy with their performance" he has said.
The hosts started with a flourish their Campaign in the Nehru Cup trouncing Cambodia 6-0, then narrowly edging past neighbors Bangladesh before losing 3-2 to Syria and in their last crucial match trouncing Kyrgyzstan 3-0.
If it (Nehru Cup performance) is the right tonic to infuse new life in the game and serve as curtain for the remodeled I-League Indian Professional League) and draw more and more crowds to the football stadium only time will tell.
Winners and runners-up of Nehru Cup
1982 Uruguay China 2-0
1983 Hungary China 2-1
1984 Poland China 1-0
1985 Soviet Union Yugoslavia 2-1
1986 Soviet Union China 1-0
1987 Soviet Union Bulgaria 2-0
1988 Soviet Union Poland 2-0
1989 Hungary Soviet Union 2-1
1991 Romania Hungary 3-1
1993 North Korea Romania 2-0
1995 Iraq Russia 1-0
1997 Iraq Uzbekistan 3-1
[Armstrong Vaz works as a sub-editor for the Peninsula ? largest circulated English daily in Doha Qatar]
Author: Armstrong Vaz- Qatar