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India the sleeping giant has awoken

India the sleeping giant has awoken
BRAVE EFFORT: The Indian team do the 'Viking Chant' with fans after a draw against Qatar during the World Cup qualifier. - Reuters

Dubai - The Blue Tigers were impressive in the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE and the World Cup qualifier against Qatar



By James Jose
 Senior Sports Reporter

Published: Thu 12 Sep 2019, 10:02 PM

Last updated: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 12:12 AM

LET'S PLAY BALL

Back in the day, when I was in my teens, there used to be footballs, those chess-board coloured ones, lying around our rented apartment in Bangalore (now Bengaluru). There were also football boots (Nivia was famous back then), socks, shin pads and crepe bandage.
True, in India, cricket is first, but in our household, it came a distant third, after football and hockey.
That had to do with my roots. My dad hailed from Trichur (now Thrissur), a football-mad district from an equally football-crazy Kerala.
Dad used to tell us memorable stories of the great IM Vijayan, the late VP Sathyan, Jo Paul Ancheri and TK Chathunni as well as about the Kerala Police football team.
Kicking the ball onto the wall was a regular routine, much to my mom's annoyance. Sunday evenings were spent with my two elder brothers at the ground, just across the road, where we used to gather. We used to play well into the evening, right until the street lights, lining up like a queen's necklace around the ground, lit up, proving to be our floodlights.
I also vividly remember watching that cracking game between England and Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, with dad. Michael Owen lit up my box-shaped TV by scoring a brilliant goal after sprinting from the half-line. And if I remember right, David Beckham saw red after stuffing his boot into David Simone.
We used to wonder when India, already a superpower in cricket and hockey, would make it to a football World Cup. We wondered why can't a country of over a billion people cannot produce a team that could reach football's showpiece.
Years came and went but the dream remained just that, a dream.
But this generation of footballers has reignited that dream. It might still be a while when we will get to hear our National Anthem being played at the World Cup but the signs now are promising.
We now have a team that makes us believe, a new generation of footballers, who will not give an inch and fight till the very end. There is that rock at the back, shot stopper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the backline bulwarks Sandesh Jhingan and Narender Gahlot Thapa, playmakers Udanta Singh and Rowllin Borges, to name a few.
And there can be no better inspiration than talisman Sunil Chhetri, who like he wears the captain's armband, wears his heart on his sleeve.
India's fighting draw against Qatar in a World Cup qualifier earlier this week, was a great result as it came against the reigning Asian champions, no less.
The bricks had already been laid during the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE in January when India punched above their weight. They swatted Thailand 4-1, ran the hosts close, and if not for conceding an injury time goal against Bahrain, the Blue Tigers would have progressed to the next stage.
Then UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni was left impressed. "We couldn't cope with the speed of the Indian players. The Indians were very dynamic, aggressive and compact. The Indians were also good on counter attack and I am sure they will be better side in the next tournament," he had said.
India's performance kind of mirrors that of Iceland, who held Portugal and Hungary, beat Austria and knocked England out of the Euros in 2016.
India have perhaps taken inspiration from the tiny Nordic nation with the latter's 'Viking Chant' becoming a customary feature at the end of their games.
Former Fifa President Sepp Blatter once said that India was a 'sleeping giant.' Yes, the 'sleeping giant' has now awoken.
james@khaleejtimes.com


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