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Indian Football: Remembering April 8, 2001, the day India beat the UAE

Tonight India start their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign against the United Arab Emirates in the Asian Round 2 at the Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium in Al Ain City. It is a home-and-away tie so after the return-leg on July 28 in New Delh...

Tonight India start their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign against the United Arab Emirates in the Asian Round 2 at the Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium in Al Ain City. It is a home-and-away tie so after the return-leg on July 28 in New Delhi we will know for which team the dream to play in Brazil in three years time will be over and for whom it continues. Hopefully it continues for our boys.

But before tonight’s match I would like to look back at the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier on April 8, 2001 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore. I was in Kolkata at the time of the match with my friend Anthony Jai from London on some work. Short notice we decided to fly across to Bangalore to watch the game live.

The night before the game we landed in Bangalore, went straight to the team hotel to meet coach Sukhvinder Singh and his boys to wish them luck, also meet some of the AIFF officials present. There was a certain excitement within the team. One could feel that the boys believed to be capable to cause an upset, a positive change which I saw come through the first of the three England tours in July 2000.

Match day started early for us with breakfast, a tour of Bangalore city and an early lunch in town with my friend the late Noel da Lima Leitao. We had met the year earlier in London at Craven Cottage where India had played Fulham FC, so besides the upcoming match that game was also a big topic of discussion on that day. We had a great laugh. We all were of the same opinion that the matches against FC Fulham and West Bromwich Albion had done a world of good to the psychology of our players, who didn’t go into a game fearing with how many goals would we lose.

We made our way across to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium with our VIP tickets. We had gotten those from then AIFF honorary secretary Alberto Colaco the night earlier at the hotel. Actually I wasn’t working that day officially, I only wanted to watch and enjoy the game. Which I did!

There was quite a crowd around and then inside the stadium. Figures of how many people where at the ground varied from 20,000 to 40,000. My personal guess would have been around 25,000 spectators. A solid crowd for Bangalore, where football in those days wasn’t amongst the peoples favourites with Cricket stars like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath playing for India.

It was great to see the crowd support Team India as they did. It was an even game, actually of the ball in favour of India and then came the 72nd minute when I.M. Vijayan took a throw-in, Baichung Bhutia didn’t really get to the ball but Jules Alberto was there to place the ball into the net.

What joy! What a moment, India had taken the lead. Until the end it was about keeping the lead and the defence of Surkumar Singh, Deepak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli and K.V. Dhanesh put in a lot of effort along with all other players to keep the 1-0 intact.

After the Chinese referee blew the final whistle it was party time. India ranked 124th had beaten the 64th ranked UAE coached by the great French coach Henri Michel. What an afternoon in Bangalore!

After the match met coach Sukhvinder Singh, the players, officials and journalist friends. We all thought that a new era in Indian football would start that day, sadly India couldn’t beat Yemen once in two matches though India should have won at least one of the two matches.

That evening we had great dinner, continued to talk football and I had a very pleasant sleep before going back to the team hotel the next morning. The hotel had made a special cake for the team congratulating them on the win and even Rahul Dravid dropped by to congratulate the footballers.

April 8, 2001 will surely be a day to remember in Indian football. Lets hope the boys tonight can get a good first-leg result for the home match on July 28 at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium.

INDIA XI on April 8, 2001
Virender Singh, Irungbam Surkumar Singh, Deepak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, KV Dhanesh, Jules Alberto (Noel Anthony Wilson), Joe Paul Ancheri (R.P. Singh), Khalid Jamil, Potsangbam Renedy Singh, RC Prakash (I.M. Vijayan), Baichung Bhutia

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