Organising committee in deep waters
After schoolchildren brought to watch India’s first ever FIFA World Cup match suffered due to a scarcity of drinking water at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the local organising committee was forced into damage-control mode. The thousands of kids, who were at the venue almost five hours before the host nation’s clash against the United States, were visibly distressed and even offered to pay exorbitant sums to vendors for a bottle of water. The local organising committee on Saturday admitted there were lapses in distributing water, most probably due to the heightened security arrangement in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi attending the match. In fact, water was available during the first match of the day – between Ghana and Colombia – at Rs 10 per paper cup in the Category 1 stands. However, these same sections saw bottles being sold at Rs 80 during India’s match, when the crowd got substantially bigger. It points to either mismanagement or artificial scarcity. “We know that there were issues with the distribution of water for the first match day of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 in New Delhi. There was a provision made by the stadium, as providing drinking water is the responsibility of the facility owner, but there was a lapse on the distribution, the LOC said in a statement. “We will be working as hard as possible with all facility owners to ensure that drinking water is readily available for all spectators from here on.” With Delhi hosting two matches on Monday, including one between India and Colombia, it would be interesting to see if the organisers have learnt any lessons.
An escape route
For a bunch of Iraqi youth, too young to comprehend the complexities of politics and ghastly acts of terror at home, there’s an escape route – football. In their spare time, they embrace Bollywood. Like any other 17-year-old, Saif Khalid Shayyal’s eyes light up while talking about his favourite stars. He will captain Iraq in the Under-17 World Cup but Shayyal hasn’t yet learnt the art of concealing his emotions. “Saif Ali Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan…” the youngster belts out. He pauses for a moment and then reverentially adds, “Amitabh Bachchan”. Shayyal is delighted to return to India for the Under-17 World Cup not only because he and his team won the AFC Under-16 title here last year. He yearns for a great tournament to make his countrymen happy. “Despite everything, football is the No. 1 sport in our country. Football unifies the Iraqi people and we hope to do that again through our performance in this tournament,” Shayyal says. A creative midfielder, he wants to play like former Iraq international Nashat Akram. And now Xavi has become another role model.
Spain’s goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez adores Manuel Neuer, and like his hero likes to leave his box almost instinctively. Unlike Neuer, who is ruthlessly assured and efficient when he steps out, Fernandez is clumsy and he nearly paid for it twice. The first instance was when he shed his space to intersect a cross, only to realise that he was a little too slow and Lincoln was swooping in. The goalkeeper committed fully to the ball, and just managed a deflection of his body towards the throw line. Then for a freekick, he came dangerously close to the Brazil box, before he was urged by his teammates to retreat. On cue, Brazil made a swift counterattack after the save was made.
Hit the ground running
The Indian U-17 players toured 18 countries in the two years leading up to the World Cup, playing 84 matches against various oppositions. The idea was to be best prepared for their first ever appearance at a FIFA tournament, that too on home soil. It is in sharp contrast to New Zealand’s ‘preparation’. The national federation had no money to send them abroad for training and exposure, and the All White colts had to prepare at home, during the rainy season. Apart from denying them quality game time, it also prevented them from getting used to the hot and humid conditions they expected to encounter in India. The conditions in India were a factor most teams came prepared for. Turkey trained in Doha to adjust to the weather, and Mali trained for three weeks in Abu Dhabi. However, their lack of acclimatisation wasn’t such a big factor in New Zealand’s opening match against Turkey in Navi Mumbai, as it started raining an hour before kick-off. “It got a bit cooler and that certainly helped us,” coach Danny Hay would say. As the pitch grew heavy, the physical islanders gained in momentum to hold Turkey to a 1-1 draw. “We were getting better as the match went on.”
‘Chak de Chile’
The pre-match press conference was over, but Chile U-17 coach Hernan Caputto (in pic) wasn’t done yet. A statement for the Indian fans was due, also a tagline for his team’s campaign. “Chak De Chile” sounded spontaneous. “We want Calcutta to support us. Namaste,” Caputto said in English before picking a Bollywood blockbuster, and paraphrasing it, for inspiration. If you want to read between the lines, the ploy to wax eloquent appeared to be well thought out. Chile will play their Group F opener against England at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. Well aware of Kolkata’s affinity to English football, thanks to the Premier League, the Chile coach made a friendly overture to woo the locals. Heat and humidity in Kolkata, no problems! They have now comfortably adjusted to the conditions. “We love to be here in Kolkata.”
Iran feel at home
The Guinea team had travelling fans who created quite a din with their chants and gesticulating – and the Indians at the stadium did what neutrals could – they matched decibel getting behind the Iranians. Adjoining stands of the noisy Guineans offered the Iranians some support simply to nullify the Guinean ruckus. Iran has played in Goa and reached the Asian finals here, and knowing the conditions, maxed that familiarity as all action took place in the second half – and they ramped up a peach of a Allahyar Sayyad solo effort to triple that margin – first through a penalty for star Md Sharifi and one from the edge of the box for Karimi, with all their substitutions contributing in one way or another. Guinea completely lost the plot as Cherif Camara launched a kungfu tackle on Sayyad and was rent off with the tournament’s first straight red. Suddenly the Iranians look like the group favourites and coach Chamanian sounded ominous when he said he had better plans for the Germans. The entire German coaching staff lingered till some time in the second match looking pensive, knowing the Indian support will fetch up for the Iranians – conjured out of nowhere but the neutral’s love.