Robbie Fowler finally has some respite. Albeit it might be short lived. East Bengal fans finally have a point to celebrate in the Indian Super League (ISL). It was arduous, it was painful and it was a torture to watch, but it has finally happened. Before last night, the season had already witnessed two goalless draws, but none of them had the kind of action yesterday’s did. To be clear though, very little of that action was footballing.
Right from the word go, the eyeballs and the pressure was on Kolkata’s celebrated newcomers to get something from this game — against the team that did over their rivals in the previous encounter. Eugeneson Lyngdoh, making his first start of the season, was sent off in the 24th minute following a second yellow for a late challenge on Jamshedpur's Alex de Lima. The decision was contentious but regardless it meant East Bengal had to plough on, against the odds for a majority of the game.
In contrast, Owen Coyle's team were high on confidence and translated that to hold a large share of possession. But they created relatively few clear chances despite the man advantage, and eventually finished the game with 10 men themselves as right back Laldinliana Renthlei was sent off for a second yellow in injury time.
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Fowler made four changes to the side that lost to NEUFC, handing four players their first starts of the season. Sankar Roy started ahead of Debjit Majumdar in goal, Lyngdoh and Mohammed Rafique were handed starts in midfield, and Jeje Lalpekhlua started his first game in over 18 months, replacing Balwant Singh up front.
Any hopes that this new look Indian contingent would change the game went up in smoke with the red card though. Lyngdoh looked a bit off the pace from the word go and two quick yellows in the space of four minutes may have been harsh on a player who will now have to work his way back to the XI from the bottom again. As harsh (and perhaps justified) as Fowler’s criticism of his Indian contingent may have been, the truth is, his foreign recruits haven’t worked out either. Matti Steinmann and Anthony Pilkington combined well for periods of the first half but East Bengal were largely outplayed in midfield by Jamshedpur.
A point though is well earned. And perhaps also one proven. They face Hyderabad in four days, an old rivalry with new branding, under the floodlights of a modern league.
Paolo Rossi No More
The beautiful game has indeed gone poor this year. Two players who defined the 1980s -- football’s cusp years so to speak (the era that acted as the bridge between the classic game and the modern iteration) -- died within a span of two weeks. Diego Maradona went first. Now, Paolo Rossi.
Pablito, 64, died after a prolonged illness on December 9.
Rossi was and is still, perhaps, football’s greatest anti hero. For the longest time, one only thought of Rossi as the man who was the reason why Tele Santana’s Brazil, led by Zico and Socrates -- the most artistic Brazilian team to play at a World Cup and arguably the greatest -- fell short of the crown which many believed was rightfully theirs.
Rossi’s achievement is forever measured by the Brazilian heartbreak, a yardstick unfair to what he was -- a prolific striker of the generation, an instinctive goal poacher capable of pouncing on even half chances and turning them into goals. Of course, Brazil represented everything romantic in football, and Rossi, being the villain, became the man who ushered in machine-like pragmatism into football. That lasted only four years though, till Maradona took centre stage in Mexico.
1982 was also the World Cup where a young Maradona made his debut for defending champions Argentina. Four years later El Diego would make the cup his own, but Spain 1982 was Rossi’s -- who led Italy to the top of the world and himself to the end of a personal journey of redemption.
Rossi was the top scorer and the best player of the 1982 World Cup that helped redefine his career. He scored a hat-trick to eliminate favourites Brazil in a match which many consider as one of the greatest World Cup encounters. That match is considered the high point of Rossi’s career that also had many club football landmarks.
Through his 14-year playing stint, Rossi appeared for six clubs and scored 134 goals in 338 games. He won two Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia, one European Cup Winners' Cup title, one UEFA Super Cup championship and one European Cup title. All the silverware came with Juventus. He was also Serie A's top scorer in the 1977-78 season. The same year he made his World Cup debut as well, scoring three goals at Argentina 1978.
Four years later, he etched himself into Italian and world football folklore. It almost did not happen though.
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When Rossi was included in the Italian squad for 1982, many questioned manager Enzo Bearzot's decision. Rossi was implicated in the "1980 Totonero", the match-fixing scandal that rocked Serie A and Serie B and was banned for two years. Rossi was literally drafted into the national side as soon as the ban ended.
And the naysayers seemed to have been proven right when Rossi, and Italy as a team too, returned underwhelming performances through the preliminary group matches. They scraped into the next round -- also a group stage -- by virtue of having scored more goals than Cameroon. Drawn in a group which had Brazil -- led by Zico, Sócrates, Falcão, Toninho Cerezo and other greats -- and Argentina, Italy seemed destined for exit.
Just that Rossi had a date with history he did not want to miss. Italy surprised Argentina 2-1, and against Brazil, Rossi scored one of the greatest hat-tricks in not just the World Cup but football history, helping Italy record a comeback 3-2 win over the favourites.
He scored both the goals in the semifinal against Poland before scoring one more in the 3-1 win over West Germany in the final, sealing the golden boot, golden ball and immortality….
Immortality in football and memories, albeit. Rest in Peace Pablito!
FIFA Ranking: Indian Men finish Year 104th
1082 full internationals were played in 2019, the biggest number since the FIFA’s official rankings were introduced in 1993. In this year that devastated sport and human life, 352 were played. Not since 1987 (323 matches), have so few fixtures taken place in a calendar year. Unsurprisingly then, the team that finished top last year has retained their spot this time too.
Winners of six of their eight matches in 2020, Belgium, though, were not the only ones to see their position unchanged. Their three immediate pursuers – France (2nd), Brazil (3rd) and England (4th) – retained their respective rankings too. The only change in the top five from last year was the appearance of Portugal in 5th place.
Another team remained unchanged in the men’s table: India. The Sunil Chhetri-led side had finished 2019 ranked 104 and remained stuck to that spot having not played an international fixture this year due to the Covid-19 crisis.
In fact, none bar one (Qatar) of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) nations saw any movement in the rankings this year. This also meant India is stuck in 19th place in the AFC rankings — below teams with not just lower GDPs but also populations, glitzy super leagues and blazing bombastic FIFA executive committee members.
On the women’s side, the USA maintained their grip at the top of the charts, comfortably ahead of Germany in second place. France and 2019 World Cup finalists The Netherlands interchanged places this year to finish third and fourth respectively. The Indian women’s team somehow climbed two places to 55th in the charts, despite not having played a competitive international fixture in 20 months. The AIFF’s inaction over women’s football has somehow reaped dividends. There is, apparently, art in doing nothing at all.
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