Today, India hosted its first ever FIFA licensed friendly at the legendary Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata, the city of Joy. Argentina played Venezuela in the friendly and it ended in a 1-0 victory for the Argentineans with Nicolas Otamendi getting on the score-sheet. Ever since the announcement was made about the friendly Kolkata and other parts of India were totally immersed into football fanaticism. And this reached high pitch when the Argentine national team arrived in Kolkata. Huge life sized banners could be seen everywhere in every street and every home! People drumming dancing and chanting for the team. And it got even more crazy when Lionel Messi arrived. 3000 fans waited for him at the airport but to their disappointment he was whisked away through the VIP gate. The whole city was “Messi”-merised, as some TV channels put it.
After two days of training it was finally time for the match! Fans from all over the nation flocked in huge numbers to Kolkata. And the stadium was filled with more than 90,000 fans from all over India. There was tight security all round. But the match began with a ridiculous error. It was announced that the Venezuelan National anthem was to be played and the TV crew position the camera in front of the Venezuelan players and to everyone’s surprise the PA system started playing the Argentine anthem! The players gave a weired reaction but nothing big happened. And another funny thing was when the Linesman tried to take a picture of Messi with his digital camera when he came over for the toss. Priceless! Lol. 😀
The match began and Messi had Higuain and Di Maria with him upfront and the rejuvenated Lucho Gonzalez, Mascherano and former Velez Sarsfield starlet and Inter Milan player Ricardo Alvarez were in midfield. Demichellis partnered Nicolas Otamendi in Defense. Marcos Rojo and Pablo Zabaleta played in the full back positions. The team played well and Messi was good in particular. There were many chances but Argentina couldn’t finish them. Early chances fell to Angel Di Maria and Messi played the pivotal role in those two chances. After that there were no clear cut changes for both teams. Venezuela were very organized and Argentina were restricted to long range efforts. In the second half, the players began to tire because of the heat. Argentineans are not used to playing in the heat and dehydration was clearly visible. After a short drinks break, which saw Messi drinking Aquafina, the breakthrough came for Argentina. Nicolas Otamendi finished off a Messi corner to put Argentina 1-0 up. But after that chances were scarce and the players began to struggle. And so the match ended 1-0. After the match the captain of the winning team (Messi) was awarded a trophy and Otamendi (Man Of the Match) was given a trophy. You dont see this in a typical Friendly match. But this is India and we do it different! The match didn’t live upto the hype and the expectations but still it was a historic day.
Next up Argentina travel to Dhaka to play Nigeria. The experience in India over the week was like none other! For a football fan in India like me its a dream come true to have an International Friendly between two top teams in India! I hope more people start following the game and bring about a revolution in the Indian football front.