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There was a sense of excitement surrounding Colombia U-17 team’s first practice match held at a private school football ground in Gurgaon on Wednesday. Local media, trainees from a nearby football academy and their parents and some ardent football fans had arrived to watch the South Americans play against I-league side Minerva FC’s Under-20 team.
But moments before the game started they were in for some disappointing news. The local organisers wanted all of them, including the media out. “Let’s comb the venue,” an organizer shouted before the guards and police personnel got everyone to exit the ground, one which is surrounded by towering under-construction apartments.
Buses were strategically parked in front of the main gate and covered the Colombians’ dugout. One had to go to the other end of the field and peep through the railings to catch a glimpse of the action inside the gated enclosure.
As the Colombians stepped onto the field, the first noticeable difference was their built. They were way taller and muscular than the Indian players in the Minerva squad.
“They are huge. We have to put two players to mark each player,” Ranjit Bajaj, Minerva’s owner said during half time.
They, in fact, outplayed the Chandigarh club in all areas — speed, ball possession and defending. The initial fifteen minutes of the game was played in Minerva’s half. It was later, after some pushing by assistant coach Sachin Badadhe, that the boys made occasional raids into their opponents’ half.
Minerva may not have matched the South Americans skill-wise but they seemed a determined lot and they would happily take the 1-0 defeat at the hands of the better side. The Indian club were trying to hold their shape and defended rigorously, but giving space to Leandro Capaz proved to be the error as he supplied a cross, which Deymon Cortes dispatched for a goal midway through first half. In the second, Minerva were more attacking but could not finish well.
Colombia seemed to be calm and composed with Minerva posing no real threat.
“Their coach told me that they were not expecting a tough game and that he was impressed with our game,” Bajaj said.
During the match Minerva’s official photographer was asked to refrain from clicking pictures as well.
Before Colombia’s match, the Indian squad underwent a rigorous two-hour practice that began at around 4 pm.
The players were being closely monitored and India’s media manager politely asked the media personnel to leave just a while before the boys wrapped up.
Secrecy in football training isn’t something new. Several European clubs, including Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United have preferred to keep the media out of their training grounds.
Colombia are in group A along with India, USA and Ghana. They begin their campaign against Ghana at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi.