Argentinian stars have a long affair with KolkataSeptember 1st, 2011 - 4:35 pm ICT by IANS
Kolkata, Sep 1 (IANS) Even as a football mania grips Kolkata over the arrival of Messi-led Argentine football stars, oldtimers recall their rendezvous with the blue-and-white team 27 years back in the Nehru Cup tournament here.
A young Argentina team, preparing for the 1986 World Cup, defeated India 1-0 in the competition’s round robin league, with Ricardo Garreca striking the winner late in the second session. The assistant coach of the current team Jullien Camino also featured in the game as a wing back.
“We were really very excited. Not only Argentina but we played Romania and Poland also, the teams that are regular World Cuppers. To play for the country against such big teams was in itself a great motivation and we all had this feeling ‘come to the ground and we will show you’,” famed ex defender Tarun Dey told IANS.
The Argentines led by goalkeeper Nery Pumpido were disappointed in the tournament, as they narrowly missed the final berth. Two years later, the Argentines went on to win the World Cup for the second time in Mexico.
Camino returned to the city in 1988 to don the East Bengal jersey for a few months. He gave a good account of himself in the midfield and his defence splitting precision passes earned praise from his teammates, East Bengal fans and soccer pundits.
However, language problem and East Bengal’s inability to meet his financial demands prompted Camino to return home.
Calling Messi the greatest footballer of the present generation, Dey said: “He is an exceptional talent. There is a magic in his feet.”
The soccer-crazy city’s date with Argentina is not confined to this match.
In December, 2008, soccer legend Diego Maradona visited the city to attend a series of programmes including laying the foundation of a football school.
The Argentine legend’s two-day trip generated tremendous enthusiasm and an estimated 50,000 strong crowd hit the roads well past midnight to accord him a tumultuous welcome.
Every stopover that Maradona made during his tour drew crowds by the thousands. Over 80,000 frenzied soccer fans attended his felicitation at the Salt Lake Stadium, the venue of Friday’s first ever FIFA international friendly in India featuring Argentina and Venezuela.
Besides the Argentines, the city has in the past hosted football’s hall of fame heroes like Pele, Eusebio, Lothar Matthaus, Zico, Oliver Kahn, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Roger Milla, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Gerd Muller, Romario Branco and 2010 World Cup’s top scorer and best player Diego Forlan.
Except Forlan, none of them visited the city in their prime. Most of them came after hanging their boots, while Pele and Kahn were then on the verge of retirement. Forlan did not play.
Thus Messi becomes the world’s highest rated player to play here during his peak form and the city’s soccer aficionados are hoping to see some mesmerising moments from the ‘Flea’.
Another former Indian defender Aloke Mukherjee, who took on the might of the Argentines in 1984, feels the 1984 team was stronger than the current visiting side.
“Maradona was not there. But several members of the team that won the World Cup in 1986 played here. That team I feel was stronger than the current batch.”
Mukherjee regretted that the Argentines would not play against any Indian team.
“Its very sad that the Indians won’t get a chance to display their skills against the likes of Messi and company. Though watching such gifted players in action is in itself an experience, playing against them would have been better.”
“It’s an experience of a lifetime. Playing against the like of Garreca and Pumpido among others was truly an experience. Though we lost the match, we played well. I still remember the goal scored by Garreca,” said custodian of the then Indian team Atanu Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya was excited about the Sep 2 match. “The whole East Bengal team along with the old timers will together watch the game. I am excited though not as much as I was during that game.”
But Dey expressed dismay over the organisers’ failure to give them a complimentary pass to watch the game. “In India former players never get their due. I would have gone to watch the match if I was given a pass. Is it too much for them,” said Dey.
Mukherjee also echoed Dey’s sentiments.
Kolkata is once again geared up for its date with the game’s wizards from Latin America that include not just Messi but also Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, who is also the son-in-law of Maradona, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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