Bands, bugles, banners. Flags, festoons and Football! All in picturesque Kochi — all for the ‘Beautiful Game.’ The noise in the Stadium was deafening and there was enough reason for it. After all, International Football returned to ‘God’s own country’ after a long gap.
Playing their first International match at Home after the Nehru Cup, India went down 2-4 to Palestine in an International Friendly at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. Clifford Miranda and Syed Rahim Nabi scored for India in the 17th and the 39th minute respectively while for Palestine, Ashraf Alfawaghra scored a hat-trick while Husam Abusalah scored the other.
It was a tale of two halves for India, very much contrasting in nature. If India were by far the better side in the first half and went into the interval enjoying a 2-1 lead; the brace scored by Palestine within three minutes after resumption never allowed India to come back into the match.
In the first half, India started on a positive note and were the better team. Under the lights at the majestic Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and cheered on by almost 40000 spectators, Blue outshone the dazzling red on the field.
The calm in defence, the composure in the midfield and the interchanging between the front two, Alwyn George and Captain Sunil Chhetri upfront, rattled the strong Palestine side, which had fielded nine players who did duty for them in the West Asia Cup in December 2012.
Playing in only his second International match, Alwyn looked matured beyond his age. The U-22 India player, presently playing for AIFF’s Developmental Team Pailan Arrows always stayed away from his markers forcing the rival midfield to look a bit yawning. He stayed the ‘free-man’ and Team India built around him.
There were short-passes as much there was switching as much there was interchanging. The team adjusted according to the situation – slowing the procedure when needed and pressing the accelerator the very next moment. Palestine were never allowed to settle down.
India surged into the lead in the 17th minute. Alwyn snaked in between a couple of rival defenders but his left-footer was palmed away by goalkeeper Tawfiq Abuhammad only for Clifford Miranda to blast it in. Kochi went berserk. The Mexican wave followed. India by then, were roaming all over on the lush green.
However, the lead lasted 13 minutes when much against the run of play Ashraf Alfawaghra volleyed in an Abdulhamid Abuhabib centre. Though disappointed, Kochi appreciated the effort.
Nabi ensured the Mexican wave made a comeback, that too within nine minutes, in the 39th minute to be precise when he leaped over all to head in Mehtab Hossain’s corner. India went into the interval with a 2-1 lead.
But it was a different story in the second half. Immediately after resumption, Palestine equalised to make it 2-2. Hasam Abusalah heading in a corner in the 46th minute which was the first attack of the second half. The very next minute, Palestine were 3-2 up, Ashraf converting from the spot.
It wasn’t the start which was planned and India wanted and tried to regroup. Palestine were in no hurry and stayed content in further slowing it down. Understandably, the crowd of legs in their half, increased.
Arata Izumi made his debut for India in the 63rd minute coming on for Lenny Rodrigues.
But two minutes later, Palestine made it 4-2; Ashraf completing his hat-trick as he went past his marker and slotted it home.
India’s first chance in the second half came in the 73rd minute but a Jewel Raja volley from the top of the box narrowly missed the mark.
National Coach Wim Koevermans did bring in more substitutions in the second half including local lad CK Vineet but Palestine held onto the lead.
Earlier, the AIFF Player of the Year Award was handed over to Syed Rahim Nabi by Wim Koevermans prior to the kick-off. Nabi, who was voted as the best Indian Player for 2012 by all Coaches of I-League teams was handed over a silver plaque and a Cheque of Rs. 2 lakh.
INDIA: Sandip Nandy; Denzil Franco, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Syed Rahim Nabi; Francis Fernandes (Joaquim Abranches – 74th), Mehtab Hossain, Lenny Rodrigues (Arata Izumi 67th), Clifford Miranda (CK Vineet – 84th); Alwyn George (Jewel Raja – 68th); Sunil Chhetri (Manandeep Singh – 74th).
(Courtesy : AIFF MEDIA)