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Mali landed in Goa on Saturday with 20 deflated footballs and desperately in search of an electric pump. The African nation who finished at No.2 in Group B after Paraguay even had to cancel a scheduled practice session in Benaulium as a result. Incidentally, a customary message to a team official inquiring about the status of the practice session is what led to this revelation. Teams are not allowed to travel with inflated footballs on airplanes as per law, not to forget the serious space crunch that would arise if they were anyway. And it’s generally at their first practice venue upon landing in a city that they are provided with manual pumps to fill up their balls. It’s learnt that the team’s technical manager, who’s getting on in years, has found it difficult to inflate so many balls manually. The team’s request for an electric pump, however, couldn’t be fulfilled, more so since they wanted the electric pump to be brought to their hotel.
Coach shows the way
Paraguay have been one of the most attacking sides in this World Cup but it seems they’re expecting a slugfest against the US in their pre-quarterfinals on Monday. There will be no extra time in this tournament — matches undecided after regular time will directly head to penalties. The South Americans, Group B toppers, finished their routine training and then practiced penalties for almost 30 minutes.
Every player, including the goalkeeper, had a go but they failed to find the net. Until the coach showed how it’s done. Gustavo Morinigo, who played in 2002 World Cup, executed a perfect panenka. The players looked on in awe and then tried to follow what the coach had just shown them. However, none could execute a perfect one.
How to win friends and influence people? Learn from France. After they shoved aside Honduras 5-1, they went around the ground, clapped, and cheered the crowd. It’s been an one-sided affair until this game. In France’s first game, the crowd were firmly behind the underdogs New Caledonia, and in their second, they kept chanting ‘Japan Japan’. France will remain in Guwahati, and play Spain in the pre-quarters on the 17th — and they want all the support as possible then. “Guwahati is our home,” the coach said. “We genuinely wanted to say thanks.”
Eden, a must see
The England U-17 head coach Steve Cooper would like to watch a cricket match at Eden Gardens. The U-17 World Cup team have been in Kolkata for the past 10-odd days and as they have topped Group F, their stay here has been extended. Like all cricket lovers, Cooper, too, is reverential toward India’s most storied cricket venue. “I would love to see a game of cricket here. Wish I had more time and the schedule permitted that… I’m really a big fan of cricket – that’s the England team by the way,” adding: “We have got people in our staff who worked in cricket with the ECB.” If England go the distance in the World Cup, they will return to Kolkata for the October 28 final. The Eden Gardens will host a Ranji Trophy match between Bengal and Himachal Pradesh from November 1. So watching a game of cricket at Eden might not be possible for Cooper and company, but over the next few days they just might drop in to see the stadium “if opportunity arises”.
Stitch in time
With less than 24 hours left for their first match of the tournament in Goa, one of the teams based here had to make a last-minute SOS call to a local tailor in Margao. They had been informed that the number on their goalkeeper’s jersey was a few sizes bigger than was allowed according to FIFA regulations. The team is learnt to have initially scoured all the stores in town selling sports apparel to find the perfect replica. But to no avail. It was then that they decided to go with the last option, finding a tailor to fix the aberration and ensure that they field their first-choice goalkeeper in the match.
Out of bandages
Niger’s practice sessions it seems can’t go on without incident. While they had to deal with the case of the missing ball in a field of snakes a few days ago; this time they landed up at the Utorda Ground with three injured players but no stick-on or adhesive bandages. And after the volunteers didn’t find any in the first-aid kits provided at the venue; the team doctor insisted on going into town to look for them. Many discussions ensued between volunteers and team officials before a decision was taken to get an escort vehicle to accompany the Niger doctor to Margao. They’ve learnt to have gone to at least five pharmacists before finally tasting success. By the time they returned though, an hour later, the practice session was all but over.
Staubli makes history
For Esther Staubli, the first female referee in a men’s World Cup, the occasion was historic. She had earlier officiated in the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro final, refereed in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, but the Japan versus New Caledonia game at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday was about breaking the glass ceiling. How did the Bern agricultural school teacher fare? Well, given that it was a relatively low-key game, tempers hardly flew. New Caledonia had been defending all the way till they equalised from a corner. For a Swiss, not used to officiating in the Indian conditions, 31 degrees Celsius heat 75 per cent relative humidity – two water breaks were taken, one in each half – posed a challenge. But Staubli was always near the ball. Communication with his assistants, Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn, was also excellent, when New Caledonia evaded the off-side trap twice. Two well-behaved teams made her job a little easier. New Caledonia’s Neil Wahiobe was the only player to be booked. “She had a great performance tonight. It’s really good for football to have a woman referee,” New Caledonia coach Dominique Wacalie said after the match.