Indian Football: Revisiting India's 1-0 World Cup Qualifier Win Against UAE in 2001
The Goal Scorer- Jules Alberto himself wanders down the memory lane with this article.
Some memories just keep coming back. A certain match played ten years back still rings a bell in my heart. Let it. I have no complaints. With India slated to play United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the World Cup Qualifier, the match has been coming back to me a bit too much in the last couple of weeks.
It was 2001 and we hosted UAE at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore in the World Cup Qualifier for the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. On paper, we didn’t have any chance; not to forget UAE were coached by Henri Michel at that time. But we won one-nil.
IM Vijayan’s throw was long; a bit too long. I remember Bhaichung Bhutia going for the ball and it deflected towards me. The UAE goalkeeper was already out of his line and was rushing towards it. I knew I had to reach for it before he could palm it away. I was off in a flash and tapped it over him. Before it could bulge the net, I fell on the ground; my team-mates were all over me.
The memory of that goal can’t die ever. It was a special moment; a very special moment. My goal helped my country beat UAE. The 40000 plus crowd went berserk. We made Headlines once again.
Looking back, I don’t feel it was an upset. We had gone down narrowly to UAE some time back. And as we took the field that day in Bangalore, the earlier loss spurred us on. There’s no denying that prior to the kick-off we were a bit conscious. But football on the field is not about rankings and big names. It’s all about who plays better on the day.
It was a great team effort which helped us achieve the victory. Everyone supported the other. The midfield pressed well; IM (Vijayan) and Bhaichung shouldered extra responsibility – both falling back to help the defence. But more than the defending, we played the waiting game to perfection. Coach Sukhwinder Singh had planned everything.
The match opened doors for Indian Players to play abroad. But somehow, it didn’t materialise. IM (Vijayan), Jo Paul Ancheri, Khalid Jamil and myself had offers to move to Middle-East. But there was none to guide us during those days – somehow we couldn’t route through the proper channel.
Not being able to move abroad was a sort of setback but the victory against UAE provided me inspiration to look ahead. And as we celebrated wildly in the Dressing Room, I learnt my biggest lesson as a footballer.
“The match is over. Tomorrow is a new day – another match. We need to look ahead,” Sukhwinder’s comments pierced the Dressing Room, as we headed to the Team Bus. We were taken aback at that moment.
But that’s football. Isn’t it?