Shamik Das

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bayern make history in Bengal as Kahn calls it a day

Auf wiedersehen Herr Kahn: A poster advertising Oliver Kahn's farewell match

GERMAN GIANTS Bayern Munich became the first major European club to play in India last night, beating Mohun Bagan 3-0 in what was also legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn's last game.

The venue was the 120,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium on the outskirts of Kolkata, the second largest stadium in the world and home to Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting.

The cavernous bowl, jam-packed to the rafters, and its dusty, bustling, noisy, typically Bengali surrounds must have seemed a world away from the spacious boulevards and quiet streets of Munich for Kahn and his teammates, but one they embraced.

The game itself went the way of the form book, Bayern in charge from start to finish, winning through Jan Schlaudraff's double and a Zé Roberto free-kick, though the ending was far from expected, Bagan's Branco and Bayern’s Breno receiving red cards for fisticuffs five minutes from time.

It is not, however, on the strength of last night's performance that Indian football will be judged, it is on whether the authorities can harness the passion and enthusiasm of the 120,000 spectators who turned out yesterday as well as the millions more watching on TV.

They face a tough task.

Before: Kahn says goodbye to the media at his final pre-match press conference  During: Kahn flies through the air in his last game of football  After: An emotional Kahn soaks up the applause at the end of the match

The record of India's national football team makes grim reading. They have never appeared in the World Cup, though they did qualify for the 1950 tournament in Brazil, but refused to take part because of a FIFA edict that all players should wear boots.

Indeed, they were knocked-out of qualifying for South Africa 2010 in October last year, losing 6-3 on aggregate to Lebanon a month before England were eliminated from Euro 2008 and three years before the finals themselves.

Their current world ranking is 151, while Pakistan are 161st, Sri Lanka 162nd and Bangladesh 180th; India's women, however, offer some cause for celebration, ranked nearly 100 places higher than their male counterparts at 55.

It has always been a mystery to British Asians not only why their national teams are so poor but also why there are so few brown faces in the Premiership – only one name springs to mind, Michael Chopra of Sunderland – in spite of the undoubted love for and knowledge of the game.

The contrast with cricket could not be greater, with the likes of Ravi Bopara, Vikram Solanki, Owais Shah, Sajid Mahmood and Adil Rashid all in and around the England squad, with Nasser Hussain only recently the captain.

And with the advent of the Indian Premier League, the All India Football Federation's task could become harder before it gets easier, as spectators are hooked in by the fast-paced, high-octane nature of twenty20 cricket, a fad that surely cannot last.

Salt Lake Stadium: With a capacity of 120,000, the second biggest stadium in the world

The views of these two youngsters at the game will give the AIFF some heart. "If Bayern Munich can come down here why can football not compete with cricket?" Ramjit told the BBC.

"It is just a slow ongoing process. There are kids who like watching football, they prefer it to cricket as cricket is getting boring."

His friend Sanjoy agreed: "It [football] is not as big as it once was. Every sport in this country is secondary to cricket.

"But it is again picking up and with Bayern Munich coming to India and Kolkata on a regular basis, it is making an impact."

If those kids are right and the Bhangra Boys ever do make it big, British Asians, having failed the cricket test, may well have to answer the football test: England or India?

FC Bayern München
Mohun Bagan AC


Blogger Shamik said...

More comments can be seen on Inside Desi magazine.

26 July, 2008 14:05


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