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India go down without whimper

The circle of hopelessness that started getting drawn on June 18 in Lahore was completed on Wednesday at the Ambedkar Stadium ? ironically in the same city where we became the continent?s first football champions.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2006 02:35 IST

The circle of hopelessness that started getting drawn on June 18 in Lahore was completed on Wednesday at the Ambedkar Stadium — ironically in the same city where we became the continent’s first football champions. It isn’t known whether Sahu Mewalal, who scored the matchwinner in the 1951 Asian Games final, watched the sloppy afternoon saga India produced against Yemen, but if he did he saw the death of Indian football.

For if there is to be a comeback after this, India will have to show lot more resilience and steel than they did against a team ranked 21 places below on the FIFA list. India manager and the only other surviving Asian Games final goalscorer P.K. Banerjee is sure we haven’t reached a dead end. The country will have to take his word for it.

Like in Lahore, India lost 0-3. Like then we took in soft goals — all three of them — giving Yemen gifts they will cherish for a long, long time. It is, however, unlikely that they would reciprocate with such hospitality when India visit them later this year.

The match was five minutes old when India showed their generous spirit for the first time. Sanjeev Maria’s felled Ali Al-Omqy to concede a free-kick some 22 yards out and Salem Saeed Abdullah’s low right-footer went in at the first post apparently because goalkeeper Sandip Nandy had thought it was going out. We know this because Banerjee and chief coach Syed Nayeemuddin said so both denying that there was a breach in the double-layered ‘wall’.

One minute after James Singh was supplanted by Manjit Singh — that he began on the left, switched to the right side of the midfield and still didn’t make a difference is just one instance of the confusion in the Indian think tank — and two minutes before half-time, Yemen bolstered their lead.

This time Mehtab Hossain, a game trier forced constantly into shifting on either side of the midfield to accommodate his mates, tried a backpass which went to Ali Al-Nono. Sideback N.P. Pradeep’s efforts at damage control proved counterproductive and Nono was allowed to float one in. Despite the clutter of legs in the Indian penalty area, skilful midfielder Akram Al-Worafi was allowed to control the ball and find Fekri Al-Hubaishi who slotted home. There was no Shinji Ono here, only an Al-Nono and yet the makeshift defensive quartet was at sixes and sevens. Yemen probed the flanks where at one end, Surkumar was struggling to get back and, at the other, Pradeep was being taken out too often for comfort. Yemen closed down quickly on the Indian midfield quartet who too seemed to be trying to use the width of the park and go the aerial route even though the forwards weren’t winning a single aerial duel.

A clueless backline, a midfield that didn’t seem to know that part of its business was feeding forwards and a Bhaichung Bhutia who was trying to be in too many places at the same time was the Indian story for the first 45 minutes. It meant some Surkumar Singh sorties, Bhutia’s tame effort from inside a defensive sandwich and a Syed Rahim Nabi header that sailed across goalmouth which an unmarked Mehrajuddin Wadao couldn’t knock back were all India had to show for by way of attack.

It was a little better in the second half which began with a strong Hossain run down the right and which needed a better first touch than Nabi seems capable of. Looking out of depth as a midfield provider, Micky Fernandes then looked to have been tripped inside the area but Iran referee Mohsen Torky thought otherwise.

He had no such qualms when Pradeep brought down Al-Hubaishi after Al-Nono found him after superbly controlling a long back.

3-0 by the 58th minute, Al-Nono scoring from the spot, and India, it seemed, were paying the penalty for poor planning made worse by poorer selection. It’s easier to be wiser in hindsight but players like Renedy Singh and Steven Dias were missed.

It meant India couldn’t manage a decent shot on goal. Struggling with his first touch, Bhutia’s failure to connect despite a desperate lunge minutes from time encapsulated this March requiem.

First Published: Mar 02, 2006 02:35 IST