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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Football Fiesta At Kolkata, A New Experience...

A country of over a billion people would certainly have die hard football fans in every nook and corner of the country. But with the national team which is languishing in 144th position and certainly not going places as of now, a friendly game between top two teams in the world in a neutral venue is certainly  a delight for the neutral fans. Yes I am talking about the Argentina - Venezuela game to be played at the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata on September the 2nd. The first FIFA sanctioned game for India  involving two of the world's top teams which would certainly be no less than a carnival in one of India's football crazy towns. Argentina are currently ranked 9th while Venezuela are 44th.

The hype around the big game can certainly be attributed to the presence of Messi , the little genius and European footballer of the year. For fans watching him each year on TV , to watch him perform his tricks right in front of their eyes will certainly be a dream come true for the ones who can make it to the Salt Lake stadium.

The result of this might be immaterial, but there is certainly one winner and that is the Salt Lake Stadium. Commissioned in 1984 the stadium has been in misery thanks to the apathy of the officials. Now thanks to this big game the artificial turf,which was laid a couple of years back, has received extensive repairs and is back in fine condition.The entire stadium,too,is being given a facelift. Broken seats in the VIP area have been replaced with new ones and the stadium looks like it has got a new lease of life .The players dressing rooms have been completely refurbished, new lockers,toilets and massage tables are now in place to meet international standards.The players tunnel,too,has been done up.The stadium now boasts two new warm-up zones and medical and dope-testing rooms.The press box is now Wi-fi enabled and the electronic scoreboard has been replaced with a brand new giant LED screen.The floodlighting system has been a source of embarrassment over the years as scores of matches have had to be halted following breakdown.

With such extensive preparation for a game which the Indians fans would have only dreamt of watching it happen in their country there cannot be two ways but that the game has to go well. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that the stadium is capable of hosting World Cup games. I wouldn't go to the extent of agreeing with that statement as preparing a host nation for a football world cup is a different ball game altogether , a tournament considered bigger than even the Olympics in terms of fan following and TV viewership.However, the successful hosting of the Argentina-Venezuela match will pave the way for soccer's national body to organise more international friendlies and AFC tournaments in future.

The September 2 friendly will no doubt help widen the fan base for football in India,but it would be a challenge for the football fraternity in the country to keep them interested in the beautiful game where Hockey is the national game and Cricket a religion. But with European giants Liverpool ready to setup their academies in India, Manchester United already tapping the commercial market with Cafe Bars and EPL Team Blackburn Rovers being owned by an Indian firm there would be an Indian footballer playing in the high grounds on an European team sooner rather than later.(Baichung Bhutia has played 37 games for Bury FC in Greater Manchester, England over a period of 3 years while Sunil Chhetri has trialed with MLS club Kansas City Wizards).

With more than 100,000 fans expected to throng the stadium and millions more glued to their television sets in 152 countries as they tune in to watch Messi and his mates,India could well emerge as a hot spot for top European clubs when they plan their pre-season tours.Indian football has nothing to lose,but everything to gain from this Messi visit.

For football viewers in India the match will be telecast on 2nd September at 6:50pm onwards on ESPN.

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