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Little man, big desires
Fandje Toure is only 14, but so influential has he been to Guinea in the last one year, he’s become the side’s skipper. He might even come across as touch brash, as he turned down an offer from Chelsea earlier this year. The reason: “There is only one club I really want to play for, and that’s Real Madrid. It’s my dream to represent the club,” he says. He has one more wish, that’s to play alongside his idol – his only footballing idol, he stresses – Cristiano Ronaldo. “I got hooked to the game watching Ronaldo play for Madrid, and I’m working towards my dream to play with him,” he says. As for Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who has Guinean roots, he firmly says: “No, no, he is not among my favourites.”
Before the unheralded Guineans impressed the crowd with their ebullient football, they had them transfixed on their flashy jerseys. In bright red shirts, yellow shorts and red socks, they looked luminescent, especially when backgrounded by the simple, plain white jerseys the Germans wore. After a while, a few ingenious ones in the stand borrowed yellow and orange bibs from the volunteers, fastened their arms and began waving like a Guinean flag.
Guinea’s goalkeeper Mohammed Camara is quite expressive. He would scream at his erring centre backs, have a word or two with the Germans forwards, rush forward during free kicks in the attacking half and would engage the linesman with his chatter. He also nearly unfurled a scorpion kick like the eccentric Colombian short-stopper from two decades ago René Higuita, rather accidentally. He lunged forward to pouch a cross, before he realised his palms wouldn’t reach there. So he thrust himself fully in the air, his body almost parallel to the ground and headed the ball to safety.
For the Japanese, the global media coverage around the Indian Super League (ISL) probably serves as their tenuous link to Indian football. And thanks to the franchise-based league, some of them know that Yusa Katsumi plies his trade in Indian football. The Japan U-17 team training session at the Salt Lake Stadium practice arena was well-attended today, reporters-wise. One of them, Wataru Funaki from Japan, asked the local reporters about Katsumi. He knows that the midfielder played for NorthEast United FC in the ISL last season but Katsumi’s Mohun Bagan connection (he has joined arch-rivals East Bengal this term) was unknown to the journalist. The Kolkata link found, the reporter wanting to know about the possibility of meeting Katsumi here. “Nothing like if he comes for the match tomorrow.”
Biryani boost for Iran
What do you think was Iran’s secret weapon against Germany? Well, yes they are the most fearsome strike force in the tournament and also have proven to be better-drilled than most teams at this level. But to some close to the team the clincher could well have been the Chicken Biryani that they had at their team hotel the night before their famous 4-0 win against their strong opponents. While the high-profile likes of Brazil and Germany prefer carrying their own chefs for major tournaments, Iran chose to stick by what the chef has to offer. And the day before the biggest match of their lives, they chose to go with the chef’s special, Chicken Biryani. And it worked.
One for the album
New Caledonia U-17s checked into the Salt Lake Stadium main pitch in their sneakers (in pic). No one threw in a football and it looked odd for a pre-match training session. Actually, the players and the support staff wanted to have a group photo sessions at one of the biggest football stadiums in Asia. First, the players lined up and the support staff took pictures. Then the support staff also joined the group, asking a FIFA volunteer to click pictures. Photo session done, the players changed to their training kit and moved to the practice arena. Already out of the tournament, New Caledonia are trying to savour the whole experience.