Exorcising demons of the past, Hyderabad’s Sporting FC become Neymar Jr’s Five National Champions
Sporting FC defeated Kalina Rangers in the final of the tournament.
Salman Alkathery was garnering dreams of meeting Brazil and FC Barcelona star Neymar Jr before his team Sporting FC’s match against Bengaluru’s Dream Team in the first edition of Neymar Jr’s Five national final in 2016. However, life always tends to underwhelm you when expectations are at their peak and the same happened to the 26-year-old.
His team conceded a goal and the wretched nature of the Neymar Jr’s Five format – organised by Austrian beverage giants Red Bull – meant that that dream would have to be put on hold for at least one year. Sporting FC lost the match and were denied the chance of flying to Brazil.
A year later, Sporting FC were up against Mumbai’s Kalina Rangers in the final of the same competition and the glorious chance of going to South America to represent India was staring at them again. Kalina Rangers, their opponents, were also looking to create history and get a chance to visit of football’s Mecca.
The boys from Mumbai had played some exciting possession-based football to reach the final with Rayyan, Dan and “Hendo” shining for them. However, Sporting FC had decided in their head that they will be going to Brazil and played like champions, winning the final 3-0 to bring an end to Neymar Jr’s Five India finals.
The final day of the competition was held in Gurugram’s famed DLF Cyberhub on 10th March and 18 teams were in with a shot to win a chance to play in the Neymar Jr’s Five World Finals against players from 47 other countries. Teams like Barefoot FC, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Sporting FC, Joga Bonito, and Kalina Rangers, who were touted to win the title, started well.
Sporting FC and Kalina Rangers defeated opponents one after the other to make it to the final. Onlookers in Gurugram’s DLF Cyberhub were enamoured by the skill on display and were hooked to the games.
One of the spectators, speaking to Sportskeeda, said, “This is really exciting and although I do not watch a lot of football, this particular format is exceptionally good and quite enthralling. It is good to see so many youngsters and had I known that meeting Neymar Jr is on the line, I would have told my cousins to participate as well.”
The final started out with Sporting FC dominating from the word go and they put Kalina Rangers on the back foot. They applied pressure in the first two minutes and Man of the Tournament, Emad Naser, put the team from Hyderabad ahead.
Being a man down, Kalina Rangers fought hard, but Sporting FC’s slick passing and pressure saw them cut open the defence to slot home the second goal, which was scored by Zaid Mohiuddin. When Salman scored the third goal for Sporting, it was like things coming around and retribution in best form.
A jubilant Salman was excited about visiting Barcelona, “I cannot tell you how relieved I am to win the final and now I can finally afford to smile. I am so excited to go to Barcelona and by god’s grace, we will make India proud on the international level.” These boys will be representing India in the finals.
Speaking before the finals, Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr, himself, had said, “I’m very happy with the second edition of Neymar Jr’ Five, (happy) to be gathering crowds from all over the world. There are already more than 50 countries in this edition, thus the happiness is huge. I hope they can have fun with Neymar Jr’ Five, because this is the most important – be happy, have fun – and well, wish you the best again.”
Sporting FC’s win in the final brought the curtains down on a tournament that saw so many youngsters come together to show their passion for football. This was also an event that has mushroomed the development of astro turfs across the country to facilitate the growth of footballing infrastructure in the country.