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Home not where the heart is

sports Updated: Dec 02, 2011 01:38 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Rohit Bhaskar
Hindustan Times
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Two years after India won their last tournament, the 2009 Nehru Cup, they will defend their Saff Championship crown at the preferred city but not the preferred venue.

Since it was refurbished in 2007 with new floodlights, the Ambedkar Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for the national team. Bhaichung Bhutia & Co won three trophies in three years, cheered every step along the way by rapturous fans crammed into the 17,000-seater stadium. But the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) MoU with the sports ministry last month sees football return to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium after 20 years.

That winning feeling
Many of the players in coach Savio Madeira's India team were part of the two Nehru Cups and AFC Challenge Cup triumphs over the past four years - all achieved at the Ambedkar.

"When the Nehru Cup was revived in 2007 and held at the Ambedkar, there were doubts if it would be well-received by the fans. The reception we got was amazing, fans were thronging to all the matches. It had a lifting effect on the team morale, and it showed in our performances," said a senior member of the squad, who didn't want to be named given the sensitive nature of the issue.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/02-12-pg22a.jpg

"It would have been better if a trip to the stadium had been arranged to familiarise us with the venue," central defender Gourmangi Singh told HT.

"The Ambedkar is a small ground with the fans very close to the pitch. At the Nehru Stadium, there's an athletics track between the pitch and the stands. The atmosphere wouldn't be the same," he added.

'Not an ideal ground'
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das admitted that the Nehru Stadium was far from the ideal football venue, but said that due to logistical reasons the federation opted for it. "The Ambedkar has been a lucky stadium for the team, but it lacks certain facilities - it doesn't have a parking lot nor a training ground. The Nehru Stadium has worldclass facilities. Even though it's not an ideal stadium for football, it made sense logistically," Das said.