Much of the fireworks remained off the pitch at the Marina Arena as host Chennaiyin and Kerala Blasters played out a goal-less draw. 18 goals were scored the last six times the teams met but both managers opted for a cautious approach, looking to unlock the opposition defence through long-balls.
No place for Riise and Jeje
Chennaiyin manager rang the changes after what he had called an ‘upsetting’ draw against FC Pune City. Indian striker Jeje did not find a place in the starting line-up as the Italian opted to play a front three of David Succi, Dudu Omagbemi and Baljit Sahni (RF). Marquee signing John Arne Riise also failed to find a spot in the starting line-up with Eli Sabia Filho keeping his place from the last match.
Coppell went in with an unchanged side and his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with Mehtab Hossain and Azrack Mahamat playing the two-man pivot in midfield.
The game started with Chennai on the attack. Mohammed Rafique was robbed in the left wing by Dudu, who then unleashed a shot that could only be parried into the six-yard box by Kerala ‘keeper Sandip Nandy. Luckily for Kerala, the ball fell to Sandesh Jhingan who cleared it for a corner.
Both teams opted for a cautious approach after the initial scramble and it was the ever-impressive Raphael Augusto who created a chance for the home side. In the 19th minute, Chennai’s no. 19 bluffed Jhingan, who was getting no assistance from midfielder Mohammed Rafique in the flanks, but couldn’t direct the pass correctly to striker Succi.
The match suddenly picked up some tempo. Kerala came close with Belfort’s cross from the left causing concerns for Chennai defence while at the other end Bernard Mendy hit the side-netting even as Succi had a header blocked by Aaron Hughes.
Chennai lost influential midfielder Hans Mulder to an injury in the 34th minute and was replaced by Italian Mauele Blasi. The first half ended with the scores level.
Second half began with Kerala on the front foot. Jhingan and Rafique sent in dangerous crosses that the host struggled to deal with while Belfort had a free header in the box that went narrowly close after he was found in the box by Josu Currais.
Chopra was substituted at the 58th minute and Kerala looked a sharper side from then on, benefiting from Didier Boris Kadio’s pace. The Ivorian linked up well with Belfort in the 59th minute but the shot again failed to test the Chennai keeper.
Materazzi brought in the quick Maurizio Peluso for Succi in the 63rd minute but was left to rue the decision as seconds later Kerala’s big defender Hughes succumbed to an injury and was replaced by Pratik Chaudhary. Succi’s aerial presence would have been a nuisance for Jhingan.
Even though Kerala lost its influential captain, the side remained the more aggressive one, creating a series of chances. The best opportunity to open the score-sheet fell to Belfort when Rafique swept in a low cross from the right wing. But the Haitian could not control the shot and missed the far post by a whisker.
Rafi was replaced by Duckens Nazon in the 73rd minute and the new look forward line kept piling the pressure on Chennaiyin defence that was starting to tire. The substitute found free space outside the box in the 80th minute but his left-footed curler went straight to keeper Karanjit.
At the other end Chennai created a chance — Raphael Augusto playing a sublime through ball for Peluso in the 84th minute — but the Blasters defenders held firm to see out the match and earn another clean sheet.
Kerala Blaster’s Coppell will definitely be the happier manager after seeing his side stifle a strong Chennaiyin away from home. But the same questions will be asked about manager’s insistence of playing Chopra and Rafi up-front after another hapless attacking performance.
Kerala looked a changed side with Kadio and Nazon in the team and one can only wonder why an unfit Chopra is picked ahead of the players. Rafique won the pass-of-the-match award but that was perhaps his only significant contribution in the entire match. AFC Cup final-bound C.K. Vineeth’s pace is sorely missed in the team.
This was Chennaiyin and Materazi’s opportunity to make a statement after a disappointing draw against FC Pune City in its previous game. But the manager’s gamble of playing Dudu and Succi, two strikers who like to occupy the same region, backfired and failed to exploit Kerala’s makeshift full-backs.
FC Pune City is a team on a mission to win the third edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). After roping in manager Antonio Habas, who won the inaugural season with Atletico de Kolkata, the Hrithik Roshan co-owned club brought former Barcelona midfielders Jesus Tato and Pitu to bolster the side, which already has exciting Indian midfielders such as Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Lenny Rodrigues in its ranks.
Sportstar caught up with the Spaniards Tato and Pitu for a quick chat on what brought them to the Indian Super League and what their impression of Indian football has been so far.
You played at the highest level in the Spanish La Liga which is perhaps the best football league in the world today. What was the major motive behind this move to the Indian Super League? What is so attractive about Indian football?
Tato: ISL is one of the most well known leagues in the world today; players around the world know about it. It is an opportunity to play in a different country with different kinds of players. Bruno (former Sevilla midfielder who now plays for FC Pune City after stints with Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United) was the one who recommended me to come in for it. I knew about the league but after the recommendations I was sure that I was doing the right thing.
Pitu: ISL is known to most footballers in the world and there are players who have recommended us to play for this league. It’s been three years since its inception and the league has done good for the sport in this country and the league is also recognised worldwide. I wanted to accept this challenge and play here.
Did you speak to manager Antonio Habas prior to the move? Did he give any idea on which position he will want you to play?
T: Yes, I did. Habas gave me an idea on what the league will be about and what he expects from me during the season. He was very clear about me and he is planning on using me in attacking and midfield, so we are clear on what our roles are going to be.
P: He was precise and clear about my role and explained to me how I will be trained for the season.
How do you think Eidur Gudjohnsen’s injury and the subsequent departure will affect the team? Where you looking to playing alongside him?
T: Eidur’s injury is a bad thing for us, but we are professionals, we have to move on with the game and the season. I wish Eidur good luck for his future. Yes, we all will miss him during the season. He was a fantastic team-mate.
P: His sudden news was a shock for us, but football is an unpredictable game and we have to move on. I was looking forward to playing with him but I wish him the best for the future.
You are a product of Barcelona’s academy ‘La Masia’. Can you share the experiences you had learning from the best? What is it that makes La Masia and the Barcelona football philosophy so unique?
T: We are trained hard during the initial stages in the academy. The trainers make sure that you are clear about your aim. The philosophy is simply to create the best players in the world.
P: We are trained under some of the best coaches in the world, we are put in situations where we have to play it smart during practice sessions too. I think it’s not about philosophy in case of players. It is about the approach and the humbleness of the learner. If the player wants to be the best, he can learn a lot from small sessions too.
Tell us more about your time with FC Pune City so far. We have heard that manager Habas is a task-master. Did you get to find that out during the pre-season training and matches?
T: The time here has been fantastic. Coach Habas is clear about his vision for the team. He makes sure that everyone in the squad knows their roles and responsibilities. Playing with Indian players made me understand that the level of football in the country is higher than I thought. The way we all play as a team is really good, the coach’s understanding of the game is really impressive.
P: I am happy that I am playing with FC Pune City. We aren’t just a group of professional players but also brothers — we are a family. Coach Habas helped us all to get along well with each other and it has been a great experience. Talking to each other, helping each other during the training sessions and being with the team through and through is really turning out to be a great thing. Our coach won ISL title in his debut season so he knows about the players and the pitches in India better than most others. He has trained us accordingly and makes sure that there is not a single situation for which we aren’t prepared for.
FC Pune City has some exciting Indian footballers such as Eugeneson Lyngdoh (currently away on duty with Bengaluru FC), Lenny Rodrigues and Sanju Pradhan in its ranks. Have you been able to judge them? What do you think is their strength and what do you think is lacking in these local players?
P: As we said, they are all brothers. We do not judge each other, we just want to play together to ensure we win. They are fast and their game is very matured. They know their responsibilities and at the same time they are humble enough to learn new things. We believe they don’t lag behind or have any weakness in football.
On 22nd October, Twitter India erupted, yet again, about a non-cricket sport. But unlike the day when Bengaluru FC won the hearts of Indian football fans by qualifying for the AFC Cup finals, the Twitter trend seemed to be rather ‘influenced’ by genuine social media celebrities a.k.a ‘influencers’. From Sachin Tendulkar to random films stars (read Abhishek Bachchan), everybody ‘big’ on Twitter was talking about it.
Anyway, India won a World Cup and that is certainly reason enough to bring out the tri-colours and wave them with our inflated 55-inch chests. Yes, WE BECAME KABADDI WORLD CUP WINNERS. AGAIN.
But let these facts sink in as well. Yes, there is something called a Kabaddi World Cup. It was last played in 2007 and was won by India. It happened in 2004 as well. That was won by India too. Since 2010, Badal government in Punjab has been conducting unofficial ‘circle style’ Kabaddi World Cups in Ludhiana and we have been winning all of those tournaments too. Yes (in case you were wondering), there are other countries who can play the game. No, there was no Pakistan (who are apparently the only nation to have come close to challenging us) in the tournament. No, there was no Canada either (wondering where those Punjabis go to?).
So why was India winning a Kabaddi tournament a big deal? A game in which our team has lost only once in the last 25 years. How is this victory anything bigger than one of our athletes winning a gold in South Asian Games (yeah that boring tournament where India defeats everyone and wins everything)?
Sorry for sounding hyper critical. Let me get this straight. Kabaddi is a game I’ve recently learned to love and respect. And yes, considering how poor we have been in most sports, it’s certainly nice to see our men dominate a game. But as a sports journalist, and most importantly as a sports enthusiast, I can’t help but wonder if this sudden overload of Kabaddi is just a bid by a TV channel to tap into potential (which yields TRP and money) of a game. A sport that they own most rights to and to give them credit, a game they have most certainly helped revive.
I was a huge fan of Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) when it arrived. In a country like India, there is a desperate need to promote ‘non cricket’ sports. Kabaddi is a traditional game that has roots within the country and Star Sports packaged it into a product that was certainly TV friendly. Suddenly new stars were born and people were talking about Kabaddi. Brilliant. Then they decide to make PKL biannual. Not so brilliant but whatever. If Fast and Furious can have (what 8?) sequels, surely PKL can survive a little bit of overdose. But after first three seasons that saw a steady surge in TV viewership, the results of PKL 4 left a lot to be desired. Patna Pirates won the tournament again and the organisers had us believing that the tournament was a success especially in terms of TV viewership. And then out of nowhere, they decide to revive the Kabaddi World Cup.
So why bring back the Kabaddi World Cup?
BECAUSE there is nothing like a World Cup to widen the reach of the game. No, I’m serious. It’s good for the game that other nations are playing it. It’s still far from becoming an Olympic game (you need atleast 75 nations playing the game to be considered in Olympics) but like Manjeet Chhillar explained prior to the tournament, this is the closest this generation of players will come to an Olympic medal. Strong performances from the likes of Thaliand and Kenya show there is definitely a future to the game in which India is head, shoulders and waist above everyone else. Iran will challenge us in future World Cups (which will apparently be conducted every two years) once they find quality raiders. But then everyone has talked about these things. This is clearly what the organisers would want you to believe.
Before I make some wild predictions (accusations or whatever), I must admit I do not know these details and would love to get more information.
1) When was it decided to start/revive the Kabaddi World Cup? We journalists started hearing about it this year around the time PKL season 4 was going on. That’s June and definitely too late to decide on something as big as a World Cup surely.
2) TV viewership of PKL 4. I don’t know anything about it. What I do know from the little research I did online is that Star Sports and Mashal Sports (a start-up by Anand Mahindra and Charu Sharma) was very vocal about the TV viewership in the first three seasons of PKL. Every time they have had press conferences to talk about its increasing reach yet in June, NOBODY talked about it. Maybe because it was already a given thing? I doubt it considering the skepticism around the League’s plan to make the event biannual. A rise in PKL numbers would have certainly made news considering how the League would be looking to woo new sponsors.
3) How were the TV (online) rights for the World Cup decided? Was there a formal bidding? It almost seemed a given that Star Sports would be broadcasting the event. Why? Do they own it? If Kabaddi is as popular as Star claims it to be in TV, I’m sure Sony ESPN or Ten Sports would have liked a shot at it. Do we have any details of the bidding war that Star Sports won? I am sure International Kabaddi Federation wouldn’t have been naïve as to just give Star Sports the right to the tournament. But it remains to be seen whose idea it was. Did Star Sports play a role in it?
Listen, I have my reasons for doubting. This is the T&C for the Kabaddi World Cup website.
So the way I understand, somebody got the idea of having a Kabaddi World Cup immediately after PKL 4. Nobody knows whether the PKL season was a success but here is what a Kabaddi World Cup would bring.
i) Extra coverage for the game. With 7 TV channels taking the event across the world, news channels were forced into talking more about it. Although PKL had an array of international players, it was always seen as something within in India. Nothing like a WC to help brand Kabaddi grow. And who benefits? Owners and stakeholders, of course. Who owns the majority stake in Kabaddi? Hmmm.
ii) Kabaddi World Cup offered a key opportunity to sustain interest in the game by offering something new to the audience. Before PKL 4, as journalists do, I had interviewed players and organisers about the logic of making this league twice a year. “Won’t it be too much?” I asked. (READ)
The common logic seemed to be that the organisers were afraid that the audience will lose interest between the seasons. See, between Indian Premier League (IPL) there is international cricket going on. Between ISL seasons there is a LOT of football being played. But between PKL season there was no Kabaddi. Atleast nothing they could watch. To sustain the interest in the sports, to keep Kabaddi trending, it is important that Kabaddi makes its way into TV (and other media) regularly.
So they made it two seasons per year. Now I do not know if a lacklustre season 4 is the reason for the introduction of Kabaddi World Cup or whether it was always in the pipeline, but this sure does help sustain the interest in the game. An international tournament and 2 PKL seasons spaced out between 12 months would be perfect. World Cups will be played every two years. And with the nationalist sentiments on an all-time high (did you know about Kapil’s hyper reaction to a question on Pak’s absence in the WC), the Kabaddi World Cup made all the sense.
Coming back to the point. Kabaddi WC isn’t that big a deal. You and I were made to believe it is a big deal by a company that has huge stakes in the game. India always wins the event. There is no country that can beat us (yes Korea did and Iran led but c’mon). What made the event special is very clever marketing.
If Sachin, Kapil, Sehwag and random actors talk about a certain event, it is bound to become something extravagant. That’s the power of social media and people with followers. If these guys tweet about Dutee Chand winning a Gold medal in SAG, Twitter will go crazy and tri-colours will be out again. But the question is, will they?
India won the World Cup, it’s worth celebrating but you need to know that the team didn’t do anything extra ordinary. You, like me and everyone else, are a victim of a herd mentality, which a certain company has tapped into. We are victims of a beautifully orchestrated marketing plan. Yes, it was great to see all our Kabaddi superheroes come together to be nation’s warriors. Why do you think DC made a Justice League movie after all that Batman and Superman films?
That said, you can’t help but admire the think-tanks. They had us all convinced that something huge had happened.
What Star is doing isn’t necessarily bad though. Reliance’s interest in Indian Super League (ISL) or Star TV’s love for Kabaddi shows there is potential money in alternative sports in the country if you are willing to package it right and have a long-term goal. Hopefully this will result in sports-persons getting some much needed attention.
As always with my blog posts, please feel to correct me where I am wrong. I work as a journalist for an organization but the article (rant) has nothing to do with my employers. In other terms, please don’t sue either of us.