Lacklustre Lions held by Syria

Updated on Aug 25, 2012 12:59 AM IST

On Friday evening, the crowd, besides the bunch of Syrian supporters, consisted of a small group of Cameroonian fans. Kaushik Chatterji reports. Nehru Cup

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Hindustan Times | ByKaushik Chatterji, New Delhi

It takes a lot to fill in a 60,000-capacity multi-sport arena — or at least make it appear packed — and an invitational football tournament just does not seem to make the cut. Even on the first two days of the Nehru Cup, the signs were hardly encouraging — apart from the VVIP block, there were just a handful of supporters behind one of the goals.

But while the opening match involved the hosts, and the second drew in vociferous supporters of neighbouring Nepal, there seemed to be no reason for spectators to turn up for the third.

That seems strange given that it was Cameroon's first match of the tournament. Despite it being well-known that their most reputed stars would be busy playing in Europe and hence unavailable to make the trip to India, the addition of the African nation to the five-team line-up had football enthusiasts in this country kicking their heels waiting for the Nehru Cup to start.

But on Friday evening, the crowd, besides the bunch of Syrian supporters, consisted of a small group of Cameroonian fans. In a way, though, it was better that way — fewer people left the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium disappointed by the Indomitable Lions' performance.

Although they took the lead - rather early the first time around - but going by the number of wayward attempts and mis-passes, it was clearly a B-side, derived from home-based clubs, that is a pale shadow of their main team.

Both their goals came through set-pieces - Kingue Mpondo headed home off a 17th-minute corner, and Ebanga Bertin, who delivered that corner, converted from the spot after Kologny Vigny Merime was tripped by Syrian goalie Mosab Balhous - and even though they physically imposed themselves on the opposition, they could not contain the spirited men in red, especially their playmaker, Oday Abdul Jafal, who had a hand in both of Syria's equalisers.

Three minutes from half-time, Jafal delivered the free-kick off which Ala Al Shbli, who scored a consolation goal against India in the opener, headed into the goal. And 11 from the final whistle, with the ball bobbing around in the box, Jafal's long-ranger from the edge of the box found the top left corner of the net and kept Syria alive in the tournament.

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