Football has really developed over the years in India. I had never even dared to harbour the hope of watching a great football giant playing a football game in India with their full strength squad up until a couple of years ago. We already had one big match at the Salt Lake in Calcutta last year when Argentina played Venezuela. Football fans from all around the country took this as an opportunity to catch some of their favourite stars in action, for example the mercurial Messi and the agile Aguero. Those who were too unfortunate to miss that game did not have too long to wait to watch such players live in action in India for on January 10, 2012, a mere half a year after that game, the Bavarian Giants and Champions League runners up from the 2010-2011 season, Bayern Munchen came to town.
I was one among the 35,000 spectators who turned up at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to watch this much anticipated game, and I am sure that I can safely say that all those present had a brilliantly mesmerizing experience. You could see the excitement pulsing through the veins of the eager spectators as they thronged the box offices and collected their tickets. The look of glee as they read the names of the teams playing that evening said it all. It was unbelievable; Munich was here, in our very own Delhi.
The atmosphere in the stands was incredible. Electricity and energy were pounding through nearly every spectator present. The football summit also included the finals of the FC Bayern youth cup, contested between Delhi and Mumbai, the winners of which would win a trip to watch the Champions League final in May as well as win the esteemed opportunity of training with the football giants in Germany. Although this match was not the highlight, it was a very gripping match, and kept the audience biting their nails as the twenty two players ran hard, made telling tackles and dove to intercept seemingly impossible passes in order to impress the youth scouts from Germany. In the end the match was decided 4-3 in Delhi’s favour, after some nervous moments at the penalty shootout. However, we did get a glimpse of the visitors, who strayed onto the pitch and invited some deafening roars.
After this fifty minute match, all that remained between the huge match and the lot of impatient and fully charged spectators was an opening ceremony, and might I add, the ceremony – which consisted of a few short speeches, a brilliant cello recital and a well-co-ordinated dance routine to some popular numbers – was well worth the wait.
The happiest moment for each spectator present at the stadium though, would’ve been when both the teams, India as well as Munich made their way onto the pitch for their warm-ups. We finally got to see both teams in full gear exercising, stretching and of course, doing ball drills. While most eyes were on Robben and his juggling antics, and Ribery with his passing practices, and Neuer repeatedly being bombarded with jarring shots taken by Schweinsteiger and Tymoschuk among others, India too were working on opening up their muscles just beyond in the other half of the pitch. Seeing the two teams at their workout and knowing that the match was finally within a stone’s throw just made us all the more impatient.
Then was the big moment, the kick off. Two great icons, Phillip Lahm and Baichung Bhutia, the Sikkimese Sniper, for whom this match was the swan song, met for the toss, and Bhutia was gifted a Munich Jersey signed by the Bavarians. Finally the game started. Munich got into their stride easily, and troubled India and the ball rarely left the Indian half, and the audience cheered the home team on as the Bavarians mesmerised us with their swift passes and accurate balls. India held them off for a good 14 minutes of frantic defending, after which Mario Gomez finished beautifully with composure. This invited groans of discontent from the audience; however, it was only half disconcerted as they were excited too. They had just seen one of the finest teams in the world doing what they do best. This goal invited a torrent of goals, one header and a two touch finish from the young Muller and a swift well placed shot by the steam engine, Schweinie and no matter how hard Team India tried, they could not trouble the Bavarians who simply swatted them away.
The second half however was a whole different ball game altogether. Bayern made a huge number of changes in the line up and weakened the team considerably. This slightly weaker team was definitely a little easier for India to cope with and their confidence levels soared as they made blazing runs, made some bone crunching tackles and posed some threat to the visitors. They could not finish with a goal however. The defining moment of the match had to be during the 84th minute however when Bhaichung Bhutia, the legend of India made his way to the dugout in the Indian jersey one last time. The entire team stood up in an ovation to the great man, and play even stopped for a few minutes as each and every player on the pitch congratulated him on his great career and bade him farewell. Every person who follows football as much as I do, would have really mourned this loss to Indian football, and wondered who would ever be able to fill the gap that he left behind. After the tears were shed, the few remaining minutes were played on a similar note, and the game ended 4-0 to Bayern.
Team India put up a valiant fight against the German Champs. They struggled, they ran, they dived, in the end both teams won. Bayern Munich won the game. India earned a reason to be proud. They had a chance to play against the greats of football, and they held their own and tried their best. We, in India do not yet have access to the kind of infrastructure and opportunities that world class teams like Munich possesses, so the fact that we were able to keep our chins up after such a brilliant display is an amazing feat in itself. All in all, the match was enchantingly enthralling and brilliantly mesmerizing and the fact that we are able to watch such great games in India is a living testament to the fact that football is definitely growing in India. After this and the International game in Kolkata, I’m sure more such matches will definitely take place in India. India is gaining exposure in the scene of World Football. It is rising up the ladder of rankings. Such events will greatly help the situation of football in India.
India is no longer just a cricketing nation. The day is fast approaching when India will embrace football just as it embraces cricket. The day is near when England will play cricket at the Kotla ground and also football at the JLN. The day is coming when India’s I-league will have star players from around the world. There shall also be a day not too far away when we will finally hear the National Anthem at the FIFA World Cup and break into screams as we say the words “Jaya jaya jaya, jaya he”, with our heads held high in pride and our faces beaming with energy, excitement and exuberant enthusiasm.
I eagerly await that day.
Sri Venkateswara College