12.1.05, Calcutta: It happens like this only. They set a stage, far too big for the production and then spread their cast around, thinly, moving awkwardly in directions astern, mostly. Then, an hour and-a-half and shrill catcalls later, they blame the everybody else.
Thats how it happened, in the opening match of the National Football League, at the Salt Lake Stadium Wednesday.
Its just not football, surely not that beautiful game Pele was referring to. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal played goalless, directionless, and classless. And it all had to start with the Prime Minister of the country Dr Manmohan Singh, kicking a ball into the goal, and blessing the soccer fraternity to bigger, better goals from the ONGC Cup. The irony of it all was in the marching order given to Chandan Das of East Bengal, and to the referee did us in refrain re-emerging.
Nobody seemed amused, also, when a panel of experts decided East Bengal's Syed Rahim Nabi was Man of the Match. Even the untrained eye could see Mohun Bagan's Noel Wilson, their goalkeeper Prasanta Dora, even East Bengal goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee do better in this Cristiano de Lima Junior benefit match.
The match itself saw many hits and misses. The hits saw eight players booked by K. Shankar (Tamil Nadu), the referee of World Cup fame. Chandan Das drew two of them and was thrown out of the field in the 66th minute. Of the misses, the Rahim Nabi one in the second minute (turning one off the back of his head into goal while teammate Ernest Chukwuma Jeremiah's infringement was clear) had an interesting comment from a club official. We will send the video of the match to the AFC!
Bhaichung Bhutia was visibly uncomfortable on the ground, slow, hardly useful. East Bengal Coach Subhas Bhowmick, however, found streaks of brilliance in the trudge.
Football was scattered, sometimes up the middle, sometimes sliding down the wings, sometimes in long-ball advances. Everything was tried. But Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya's desire to give his fans some hope went down the drain. He badly wanted to win. One believes he simply wished for a victory, not craved for one.
The 50,000-odd strong crowd wasnt very sure they werent watching a friendly. Referee Shankar's booking of Nabi, Habibur Rehman Mondal, Douglas da Silva and Das (twice), all of East Bengal and Dulal Biswas, Mehraj ud-din Wadao, Eduardo Coelho and Dharamjit Singh Mohun Bagan, dispelled those doubts.
Count the misses: Twenty-one minutes into the match Mohun Bagan's Dharamjit's flag-kick reached the goalmouth, relayed by Roberto Mendes Silva Beto before Eduardo Coelho tapped out from close. Twelve minutes later Beto trapped one in the box and relayed goalwards, quickly, goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee saving. Two minutes passed, and Beto is back in the East Bengal defensive third, back-centring for Tomba Singh to drive into a diving Sangram.
It wasnt so biased, really. Four minutes from the break, at the other end, Das missed from inside the box. The goalkeepers earned their paycheques for the day, though.
East Bengal's Shylo Malsawmtluanga added to the misses tally, his 55th-minute volley from just inside the box being fisted over for a corner by Dora.
Then Nabi gave all the goose flesh. Twelve minutes to time, off a throw-in, Nabi shot over and missed from where few can. Dora punched to safety again when a Douglas free-kick dipped after clearing the wall. The derby stalls were closed, finally.
The Salt Lake Stadium was a sea of security personnel Wednesday. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was scheduled to inaugurate the National Football League for the ONGC Cup and traffic snarls and aimless waits and body searches were scheduled as well.
The Prime Minister wasnt the only VVIP on the dais Wednesday. AIFF president and Union minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi had gathered along with the sponsorship of the league from ONGC chairman Subir Raha's table defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, state governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee as well as the PM's wife, Mrs Amrit Kaur.
Mohun Bagan: Prasanta Dora, Dulal Biswas, Mehraj ud-din Wadao, Eduardo Coelho, Mehtab Hussein, Tomba Singh, Basudeb Mondal (Jo Paul Ancheri, 79), Noel Wilson, Dharamjit Singh, Roberto Mendes Silva Beto (Jerry Zirsanga, 50), Ashim Biswas.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Syed Rahim Nabi, Selwyn Fernandes, Habibur Rehman Mondal (Madhab Das, 84), Douglas da Silva, Sasthi Duley (Shylo Malsawmtluanga, 41), Chandan Das, Climax Lawrence, Ernest Chukwuma Jeremiah, Alvito D'Cunha, Bhaichung Bhutia.
Referee: K. Shankar (Tamil Nadu).