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Kolkata will be remembered, Kolkata will remember

Mexico found some unexpected backing by a 40,000 strong crowd at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Wednesday.


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The English players celebrating their victory over Mexico

My friend was agitated. Why was their so much traffic on a normal weekday afternoon?

Not, that we were late. In fact, we were early, but just not early enough!

Of course, he wanted the best seats in the house. The gates are usually opened at 3 pm. At 2.45 pm, we were still some 30 minutes away from the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan. Shifting in his front seat nervously, he hurried up the Uber driver, “Dada, ektu taratari cholun! Match start hoe jabe (Brother, go a little faster! The match will start).”

Thankfully, ‘dada’ complied, and we found ourselves entering the stadium at 3.10 pm.

Now, mind you, this wasn’t my, nor his, first rodeo. I have been to this stadium innumerable times – the first time was when I was just 10-years-old – and we were both present on Sunday, the day Kolkata got its first taste of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

My friend just happens to be one of those people who are always overly excited at the prospect of a live football match, more so, when two heavyweight teams face each other off.

Luckily, we could get the desired seats, even if that meant, sitting in the sun for a good one hour, and my friend was happy. I was happy that the organising committee seemed to be more competent than it had on Sunday.

You might be wondering, what exactly do people, who reach the stadium two hours before the match starts, do with all the time? Well, to be honest, time flies.

Soon, the line-ups of England and Mexico were being announced. People had already started to settle down in seats of their choice and the stadium was gradually filling up.

We could see many of the spectators sporting England jerseys, carrying banners in support of the English team and even, a couple of English flags. It wasn’t a big surprise, though. The way England had thrashed Chile 4-0 the other day, they were bound to get some fan-following.

The match started at the scheduled time and from the very start, England took control of the match. Within the first ten minutes, they had created three scoring chances. The crowd in the stands knew what they were in for and they got behind the English youngsters. Occasionally, we could hear loud cheers for Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden, England’s star players, from one particular end.

England U16 v Norway U16 - U16s International Friendly
Jadon Sancho was a favourite among the fans

With every step-over from Sancho, with every feint from Foden, there were collective gasps of oohs and aahs in the stands.

However, Mexico found their footing soon and it was mostly a battle in midfield thereafter. Their main man, Diego Lainez, was showing some sparks on the left flank but most of it was coming to nothing. Nevertheless, it was turning out to be a competitive match, unlike the one-sided England-Chie affair on Sunday.

As for me and my friend, we were enjoying to our fullest. Being a Manchester United fan, I was a little disappointed that Angel Gomes did not start the game, even after scoring from that freekick against Chile. But it was short-lived as I got quickly engrossed in the match.

Towards the end of the first half, England finally broke the deadlock through a superb Rhian Brewster freekick. From just outside the penalty box, the Liverpool prodigy struck the ball with enough power and precision so that it went over the wall and nestled into the top corner. As the youngster ran towards the corner flag to celebrate, Yuba Bharati Krirangan rose in appreciation.

As the referee blew the whistle to signify half-time, I could overhear some of the spectators discussing how Mexico will go all in after the break. The majority (including me), though, firmly believed that England would score more and register another easy victory.

Post change of ends, England showed why they are being considered as one of the favourites. The introduction of Angel Gomes (much to my joy) gave England the calmness they needed in the middle. Within the first few minutes of the second half, Gomes and Sancho paired up to play a neat one-two that allowed the latter get into space. Sancho, then, set it up for the industrious Foden, who smashed home a first-time left-footer. 2-0!

Even as Foden ran towards a group of fans, who were holding a banner with his name, to celebrate the goal, one could feel there was more incoming!

This time, Sancho danced his way past a Mexican defender and then sent in a driven cross. The ball didn’t reach the target but it did brush a hand inside the penalty box. The referee took no time to point to the spot. Of course, Sancho was up to the task of converting it and making it 3-0!

By now, there was a general feeling around the stadium that there was no way back for Mexico. The fans, who were boisterously cheering for England, became louder. The young Mexican team looked drained, their shoulders dropping low, heads hung. Perhaps, even they felt that defeat was imminent.

All of this, until, a mere stroke of luck.

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Diego Lainez brought Mexico back into the match (Credits: La Verdad de Tamaulipas)

It was in the 65th minute that Lainez who with his grit and determination won the ball from England’s promising midfielder George McEachran, ran a few yards forward and unleashed a left-footer. With the help of a wicked deflection, the ball flew into the net!

The Mexican players were pumped. By the time, the spectators grasped the moment and stood up to applause, they were already running back with the ball, eager to get the game restarted.

Eight minutes later, to the crowd’s delight, Lainez cut down the deficit to one with a gem of a goal. The youngster, who had been guilty of being too selfish at times, showed why people of his country are calling him the ‘Mexican Messi’.

Lainez collected the ball from Roberto De La Rosa, kept his balance as he created just a bit of room before producing a brilliant low shot. The English goalkeeper could do nothing about it.

This time, the crowd was ready. As soon as the ball went into the net, they were up on their feet. While the Mexican players quickly regrouped to get the game started again, the chant, ‘Mexico! Mexico!’, started reverberating across the stadium. 40,000-odd football crazy fans had suddenly decided to back the underdogs who were staging an impossible comeback.

It was natural for me and my friend to join in the chants. We were screaming, at the top of our lungs, along with every single person present in the stadium. The same people who were holding up the Foden banner, the same people who were cheering on Sancho until then, had only one name on their lips, "Mexico!" The atmosphere was unbelievable!

Backed by such vociferous cheers, the Mexican youngsters suddenly found new energy in their tired legs. For the next 15 minutes, it was a clash between the Mexican attack and the English defence, neither willing to leave an inch of space for the opposition. In these 15 minutes, three clear chances were created but, unfortunately, none could be converted.

When the referee blew the whistle for the final time, the English players were too tired to move; they knew they had had to play a football match.

The Mexicans hung their heads low; they knew what they could have accomplished. But when they looked up towards the stands, they saw everyone standing up.

Not a single soul at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan was sitting at the end of 90 minutes. All 40,000 odd spectators were giving the Mexican team a standing ovation.

It was unbelievable how the people of Kolkata had backed a foreign underdog team.

The coach of the Mexican team, Manuel Artegea, went out saying, “We will remember Yuba Bharati.”

Yuba Bharati says, “We will remember.”

Kolkata will remember.

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