THE Goan team ended a 15-year-long title drought when they won the 60th edition of the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy at Kochi. In the fortnight-long soccer carnival, there was no doubt about which was the best team. When Goa capped their dream run with a 3-1 triumph over Maharashtra in extra time in the title clash, things just culminated in a logical pattern.
A team scoring 44 goals in eight matches couldn’t have been anything but the best. Goa had lost five finals in the past eight years, and it was time they shrugged off the losers’ tag. They had lost to Kerala in the 2001 final in Mumbai, and were desperate to come tops at Kochi. Their fourth title win was, perhaps, their best ever. Goa had last won the title defeating Kerala when they hosted it in 1990, but then the championship was restricted for players under 23.
The Goan brand of football is difficult to replicate. The game is a way of life with the Goans, totally ingrained in their system and ethos. Money makes the mare go, yet money is not the only thing with the Goan players. Football is an all-conquering passion with Goans, and they showcase their game as no other team does in competitions like the Santosh Trophy.
A player like Climax Lawrence (Dempo) will command upward of Rs 18 lakh in the soccer market, yet when he plays for Goa, he is a complete team man. And it’s more than a coincidence that Lawrence played a pivotal role in taking Goa to the summit. In the process, he also earned the player of the championship award.
The Rs 5 lakh prize money that came with the Santosh Trophy was pittance for Goa compared to what they would be getting from their own state government — Rs 25 lakh.
Goan Sports Minister Pandurang Madadikar, who was witness to the historic triumph at Kochi, had promised that each of the 25 members in the team would be rewarded with Rs 1 lakh if they won the Santosh Trophy.
Goan clubs pump in crores to keep the game going in the state, though the returns are minimal. Even if a club sweep all soccer titles on offer in the country, including the National Football League, the Federation Cup and the Santosh Trophy, the prize money cannot exceed Rs 75 lakh. But the Goan clubs spend many times over that amount to recruit players and run the show as football is like no other game in the state.
When FC Cochin wound up after making a brave but futile effort to survive as the first truly professional football club in the country, the club was in the red by Rs 3 crore.
But the Goan clubs manage to sustain themselves, and the results are there for everyone to see.
There were so many coincidences in the Goan triumph in Kerala that in hindsight, Goa were destined to be the champs. It was also a revenge of sort as the Maharashtra team contained many of the Mahindra United players, who were part of the club’s triumph over Sporting Clube de Goa in the title clash of the Federation Cup in their own backyard at Fatorda only a couple of weeks ago.
Like the Federation Cup, the Santosh Trophy, too, was an unqualified success, though the defeat of Kerala in the semifinal robbed the final of a full house as the faithfuls dutifully kept away.
It was small consolation for defending champions Kerala that they could finish third, beating Punjab 2-1 to pocket Rs 2 lakh in prize money. Kerala were indeed impressive, and their attacking soccer often took the opponents’ breath away. But they lacked finish, and that was their undoing.
It was indeed sad that with a player of the calibre of striker Asif Saheer in their ranks, who scored his 20th goal in the Santosh Trophy against Punjab, Kerala failed to make it to the final. They also bungled in dropping former skipper Ignatious and benching the ageing icon I M Vijayan, as the bench strength was rarely used judiciously. In the semifinal, Kerala wasted at least 10 scoring chances, while three-time champions Maharashtra got one and scored off it.
Former champions Punjab, consisting of young players — though none from traditional strongholds like JCT and Punjab Police — played inconsistently at their own peril, though they did give a better account of themselves against Kerala. They did not go all out against Goa but played a defensive game, not attempting counter-attacks. They seemed content in just having reached the semifinal, but Goa had other ideas.
Another former champions, Manipur, after losing out to Goa in a controversial quarterfinal clash, have vowed never to play in All-India Football Federation-run tournaments like the Santosh Trophy. They attacked referee Shaji K Kurien for "favouring" Goa and match commissioner BNG Niyogi recommended action against goalkeeper Ingobi Singh, Dharamjit Singh, Samson Singh and Mani Thombi Singh.
Instead of falling in line, Manipur have taken a defiant stand, which may prove costly for the players from the state.
Bengal, 29-time champions, made an inglorious exit from the quarterfinal league, after just about making it there. Bengal’s glory days with "borrowed stars" seems to be over, as they don’t have enough home-grown talent to make their presence felt.
The Goans excelled with their experience and professionalism. Their midfield was in a class of its own. Climax Lawrence’s passes set up several goals, while Mahesh Gawli stood like the "Rock of Gibraltar" in the defence to repulse attacks. Gawali was simply unbeatable, with Goa conceding just two goals in the championship. Custodian Felix D’Souza was simply superb under the bar, and it was impossible to deceive him in aerial duels. Goan coach Mauricio Alfonso rarely bothered about the opponents, but only feared the "inertia" of his own players. He knew his players well, and what they could do.
Alfonso fumbled for words of praise when Goa finally clinched the trophy, though as a player, he was part of the Goan team when they lifted the trophy in 1983 and 1984. He has now joined the elite club of player-coaches who have guided their teams to the title, like Sailen Manna, P K Banerjee, Syed Nayeemuddin, Derick D’Souza, T J Jaffar and Sudip Chatterjee.
Though Maharashtra were
the most-organised and strategically well-coordinated team, coach
Ironious Vas was cautious in his approach. The team mostly adopted
defensive tactics, with 10 players moving up to attack and then
pedalling back to defend. Maharashtra entered the semis after getting
past former champions Services and Bengal, before taming hosts Kerala.
Goa got past former champions Manipur and Punjab in crucial quarterfinal
and semifinal ties after drubbing the likes of Sikkim (10-0) and Assam
(6-0) along the way.
HE is the Edmund Hillary of the one-mile race. So many have emulated him in the past five decades, but Sir Roger Bannister stands apart for being the first man to break the four-minute barrier.
Bannister’s dream run at Oxford on May 6, 1954, has been rated the greatest individual sporting achievement of the past 150 years by Forbes.com website. His world-record feat of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds — the current mark is 3:43.1 — beat US cyclist Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive Tour de France victories for the top spot after a voting by experts, editors and readers of Forbes magazine.
By running the mile in under four minutes, Bannister claimed what was then known as the "Holy Grail" of athletics. In his autobiography, The Four-Minute Mile, he recalled the final moments of the great race: "The last few seconds seemed never-ending. The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead as a haven of peace, after the struggle. The arms of the world were waiting to receive me if only I reached the tape without slackening my speed. If I faltered, there would be no arms to hold me and the world would be a cold, forbidding place, because I had been so close. I leapt at the tape like a man taking his last spring to save himself from the chasm that threatens to engulf him."
The track announcer that day was none other than Norris McWhirter, who later became famous as a founding editor of The Guinness Book of Records. After Bannister breasted the tape, McWhirter came up with the announcement, making it almost as dramatic as the race itself. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "here is the result of event number nine, the one mile. First, number 41, R.G. Bannister of the Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, with a time which is a new meet and track record and which, subject to ratification, will be a new English Native, British National, British All-Comers, European, British Empire and World’s record. The time is THREE..." The rest of it was lost in the euphoric roars of the crowd.
Just as Hillary scaled the "peak of peaks" with the help of Tenzing Norgay, Bannister owed much to his pace-setters Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher for breaking the "barrier of barriers". Brasher led for over two laps, with Bannister trailing him. When the former flagged, Chataway took over. Stretched to the limit, Bannister sped past Chataway to finish with a flourish.
The role of pace-setters in Bannister’s record-breaking run has not devalued his feat. In fact, a few weeks after the Oxford run, he produced another sub-four-minute mile to win the gold at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, pipping to the post his main rival, Australia’s John Landy.
Ironically, this illustrious British athlete failed to win an Olympic medal. As a teenager, he declined to compete in the 1500-metre race at the 1948 London Olympics, preferring to concentrate on his training and medical studies. (His decision displeased many athletics lovers). He competed in the event at Helsinki in 1952 but ended up fourth, his preparations affected by a last-minute change in the race schedule.
As Bannister quit competitive running shortly after smashing the all-important record, he appeared at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics only to honour nine other runners who did it after him. In another ironic twist, his friend and pace-setter Chris Brasher, who had never won even a national title before, came from nowhere to clinch the 3000-metre steeplechase gold at the Melbourne games.
After his retirement from big-time athletics, Bannister went on to become a prominent neurologist. He continued to run to keep fit till 1975, when he broke his ankle in a motor accident. He was knighted that year by Queen Elizabeth II.
The 76-year-old Dr Bannister is presently the Director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London and a trustee-delegate of St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in Paddington. His significant work in the medical world notwithstanding, he would always be remembered for winning the "race against time" at Oxford.
As the world lauds
Bannister’s achievement all over again, it is time for top
sportspersons to take a crack at certain records. We have seen Yelena
Isinbayeva crossing the five-metre mark in women’s pole vault.
However, the nine-metre barrier in men’s long jump hasn’t fallen
yet. In cricket, we are still waiting for a 200-run knock in one-dayers,
even as Sachin Tendulkar is poised to become the first batsman to score
35 Test centuries. These records are bound to be broken sooner or later.
Nothing is impossible — Bannister proved that 51 years ago.
TILL recently, the only college in Chandigarh that boasted of producing international cricketers was DAV College, Sector 10. Kapil Dev, Yograj Singh, Ashok Malhotra, Chetan Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Mongia have brought laurels not only to their institution but also to the City Beautiful.
However, with the emergence of VRV Singh, who was selected for the last two ODIs in the India-Sri Lanka series earlier this month but couldn’t play due to an ankle injury, the focus has shifted to Goswami Ganesh Dutt Sanatan Dharam (GGDSD) College, Sector 32. VRV joined the college after completing his schooling from DAV School, Sector 8. (Incidentally, Kapil and the others were also students of this school).
The GGDSD College team includes Ranji Trophy players VRV Singh, Gaurav Gupta and Bipul Sharma. It is performing quite well in major cricket tournaments of the region. Last week, the team bagged the Panjab University Cricket Championship.
Along with Ranji players, there are several up-and-coming cricketers in the college team who are capable of making their presence felt at the domestic as well as national levels. Harpreet Singh, Akashdeep and Harmeet Singh are the boys to watch out for.
The young trio was instrumental in winning matches for their team on a crumbling and uneven pitch of the Panjab University grounds. Harpreet was the highest run getter with an average of 50. He has also represented the India under-19 team in the Commonwealth Nations cricket meet. Last year, he represented Chandigarh in the Katoch Shield under the captaincy of Dinesh Mongia and was the second highest scorer in three matches.
Besides Harpreet, promising medium pacer Harmeet Singh and allrounder Akashdeep also helped their team win the title with their superb performances.
Harmeet bagged 12 wickets in the tournament, while Akashdeep put up a marvellous allround show in the semifinal (50 runs and 4 wickets for 24) and the final (42 runs and three for 34). Harmeet has honed his bowling skills from the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai.
ARJUN Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa were playing their first golf World Cup, yet they combined admirably well to secure the ninth position, India’s best-ever show in the prestigious competition. India (18 under) finished the best among the Asian nations,. Chinese Taipei were 10th at 17-under, South Korea tied 12th (16 under), Japan 15th (15 under) and Singapore tied 20th (13 under).
Randhawa, last year’s Volvo Masters of Asia champion, and Atwal, who clinched the Carlsberg Malaysian Open in 2003, had started the event with a bang by carding 12-under 60 in the first round. This remarkable score, which included 10 birdies and one eagle, had put them in the tied second spot behind England. The duo slipped to tied seventh in the second round with a score of one-over 73.
They braved the elements and raised their game on the third day with a seven-under par 65 but still fell back to ninth in the standings
The Indians, playing in the World Cup after a first-ever direct entry, were well-positioned for a place in the top five but rain played spoilsport on the final day and they had to settle for the ninth place.
The exploits of Randhawa and Atwal brought back memories of the 1996 Dunhill Cup, when India had made worldwide golfing headlines by shocking Scotland. Gaurav Ghei had beaten Colin Montgomerie, while Jeev Milkha Singh had outplayed beat former Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart to knock out Scotland.
showing in the World Cup boosted his world ranking two steps up to
144, while Atwal slid a couple of rungs to the 160th position. (Jeev
has slid 11 places to be ranked 375th). — Agencies