Less than 24 hours after turning out in the World Cup qualifier against Oman, a few members of the Indian team travelled overnight to join their Indian Super League (ISL) franchises.
Delhi Dynamos’ forward Robin Singh, who had come on as a substitute for India in the 0-3 loss on Tuesday, started for Delhi on Wednesday, and scored the crucial goal in his side’s 2-1 win over FC Pune City.
Robin’s India and Delhi teammate, Sehnaj Singh, who also made the journey from Oman, came on as a substitute. FC Pune City, meanwhile, started with India midfielders Jackichand Singh and brought on Eugeneson Lyngdoh in the second half.
According to officials, the players had left Muscat late in the night after the end of their game against Oman. They all joined the franchises in Pune in the morning. Surprisingly, despite the hectic travel and lack of practice with the team, they were asked to play.
The gamble worked for Delhi, in the form of a Robin header in the 24th minute, which gave them the lead early on. Delhi doubled the tally in stoppage time with a goal through Richard Gadze. Pune immediately pulled one back through Kalu Uche, but by then time had run out.
Unlike Delhi, the inclusion of the Indian players failed to help Pune’s cause. The inclusion of Jackichand saw a reworking of their formation. While he played valiantly, the gamble did not pay off.
The players travelled from Muscat on a three-and-half hour flight, followed by their journey to Pune. The international break for the World Cup qualifiers had caused controversy after ISL managers such as Delhi’s Roberto Carlos and Chennaiyin FC’s Marco Materazzi had expressed displeasure over releasing players considering the short duration of the franchise-based league.
Pune coach David Platt admitted the Indian players were tired from the travel, but he felt the half-day’s rest was enough to field them. “I did not want to start them both (Jackichand, Lyngdoh). I felt Jacky was fit and could start. He was definitely tired from the travel but he seemed up for the challenge,” said Platt.
Delhi player-manager Roberto Carlos had planned to start Robin. “I had specifically asked the time Robin would arrive in India, so that I could field him in the game. He did not have any sleep, I asked him if he would play and he agreed,” Carlos said after the match.
Robin too seemed unperturbed with the hectic travel and sudden call up into the playing eleven.