India’s City That Never Sleeps wakes up to a new dawn in its sporting history with football offered a new stranglehold in future proceedings. The first step in Mumbai’s new footballing destiny will be hosting India’s international friendly against Puerto Rico at the re-furbished Andheri Sports Complex.
It will the first international football match in the city in 61 years. The last time Mumbai hosted an official football match was when India played against the Soviet Union in 1955 – a match which India lost 3-0.
Expressing gratitude, the head coach of the Indian team, Stephen Constantine, said: “It’s been 61 years I believe since Mumbai last hosted a match. This is fantastic…It’s long, long overdue that an international match was played in Mumbai.”
India’s top goal scorer Sunil Chhetri, who was also present at the press conference, echoed similar sentiments: “I’m very happy. The whole team is very happy…To see the ground, the way it has turned out — it’s extraordinary. I would like to thank the groundsmen because the ground looks really, really good.”
Though the city has been hosting the Indian Super League, there is a certain buzz about this match as Puerto Rico presents India a rare opportunity to play against a higher-ranked opponents which gives them a chance to accumulate more points with the possibility of climbing higher in the Fifa rankings.
Puerto Rico are currently placed 114 in the rankings while India are at 152.
The Indian side will be captained by 24-year-old goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the first Indian to play in a top flight European league match and also the first Indian to play in the Europa League.
Aside from Sandhu and Chhetri, the Indian squad also includes tough tackling defender Sandesh Jhingan, full-back Narayan Das, deep-lying midfielder Pronay Halder, winger Jackichand Singh and striker Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Coach Constantine is credited with putting together one of India’s youngest squads in recent times with 13 of the 27 players under the age of 23. The coach hopes that this crop of players will grow together over the next five years to achieve great things; the first of which could be competing in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup when India enter the final stage of qualification in March 2017.
“It’s a developmental process. I think the average age of our squad is 23. So it’s about learning and getting better,” Constantine said of his young team.