We will, we will rock you… God knows what they played in the Indian football team’s dressing room on Wednesday after India beat Syria 1-0 to lift the Nehru Cup, but could there be a more appropriate song?
Used to being whipped or being glorious in defeat, taking in a goal or three, it is difficult to be temperate while analysing this victory.
Maybe the time wasn’t right for that either. It was the time to raise a toast to a band of boys drawn from all over the country.
Coached by Bob Houghton, an English resident of Cape Town, this Indian squad was led from the front by Baiching Bhutia, an icon from Sikkim. There were five men from Bengal, four from Manipur and three from Goa—Indian football’s old and new power centres. Both Kerala and Maharashtra sent a brace and there was one player each from Kashmir, Delhi and Karnataka. It doesn’t get more pan-India than this.
In the 14 Houghton deployed at the Ambedkar Stadiumin Delhi, the braveheart in the goal was from a Kolkata suburb. Man of the match and Subrata Pal’s most reliable partner at the heart of the defence was Mahesh Gawli from a little town called Cuncolin in Goa.
At the centre of the midfield and making the difference between India and Syria was an unassuming lad from Thodupuzhaiduki district, Kerala, named NP Pradeep. Giving him support was the tireless Goan, Climax Lawrence. On the right was Steven Dias, a wiry young lad who studied in a Kurla school. Expecting to replicate on the left what Dias was doing on the right, was a balding, wellbuilt man from Kerala named K Ajayan.
His replacement, Clifford Miranda, is from Goa. In front with Bhutia, who has a stadium named after him in Namchi, not far from his native town of Tinkitam, was Sunil Chhetri a naturalised Delhiite. Getting a national footballer from Delhi is like snowin the Sahara, but then it takes all sorts to make a winning concoction. Twnety-five years after the Nehru Cup began, this motley mix made history. Coincidentally, it was on hockey legend Dhyan Chand’s birthday.