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Igor Stimac’s reign as India coach begins with stiff test at King’s Cup

Jaydeep Basu

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India will begin their King's Cup campaign against Curacao on June 5.

New Delhi: India have often lost by big margins in international football, the worst being the 10-1 defeat against Yugoslavia in 1952 Olympics.

But what happened in 1981 King’s Cup in Bangkok was simply unacceptable – India were hammered by a South Korean army side 6-0.

So poor was India’s performance in the four-team group that it took the organisers 38 years to invite them to play the King’s Cup once again.

Prasanta Banerjee, a member of the 1981 side and now a part of AIFF technical committee, puts the blame on the then coaching staff.

“Since the 1982 Asian Games was just a year away, our chief coach PK Banerjee decided to bring in few fresh faces in the playing eleven. The experiment proved disastrous,” said Banerjee.

Skipper Bhaskar Ganguly was not played under the bar. Worst hit was the defence. Manoranjan Bhattacharya did not travel with the team because of injury. The other central defender, GS Parmar was benched.

Banerjee doesn’t “remember” who took their places. “It cost us dear”, was all the legendary midfielder had to say.

The King’s Cup will be Igor Stimac’s first test as the new India coach and Sunil Chhetri will be leading the attack.

Needless to say faithful fans of the King’s Cup, which started in 1969, won’t have many good things to say about the last time they watched India in action.

But there are reasons to believe the fans would watch a completely different India when Igor Stimac’s boys start their campaign against Caribbean nation Curacao at the Chang Arena Stadium in Buriram on Wednesday.

If the reports are to be believed, then Curacao, 82 in the FIFA ranking, are a formidable side having footballers, who play for top European clubs.

They will be led by Everton star Cuco Martina. Former Aston Villa player Leandro Bacuna is also in the squad. The opening match is not going to be easy before India aspire to play the winners of Thailand and Vietnam.

Indian fans are bubbling with enthusiasm, especially after Stimac has taken over. He has also brought in goalkeepers’ coach Tomislav Rogic and fitness coach Luka Radnan with him.

All three are believed to have done commendable jobs in the camp. But then, it remains to be seen what is Stimac’s actual plan with the team.

Like any other European coach, the Croatian does not compromise on fitness. Sources said he was not too satisfied with the fitness level of some footballers. He made them work harder in the national camp.

The coach was probably keen to hand over young Anwar Ali his senior team debut but the under-17 World Cup defender is out with an injury.

Young Nishu Kumar’s last- minute hamstring pull is yet another jolt to the defence. To add to it, there will be no Jeje Lalpekhlua in the striking line.

It remains to be seen how Balwant Singh, Farukh Chaudhary and Manvir Singh manages to assist Sunil Chhetri upfront.

Members of the Indian Team arrive in Buriram, Thailand, for the King’s Cup.

With players like Adil Khan, Rahul Bheke, Brandon Fernandes, Michael Soosairaj waiting in the wings, there is a good chance that a new-look India might be seen in the King’s Cup, where India will get the chance to play two matches.

However, it depends upon how much changes Stimac wants to make in his first tournament as the coach. He has few options since both matches in Thailand would essentially be knock-out encounters.

For the moment, India can forget about what happened in 1981. Instead they can take satisfaction from the fact that Gurdev Singh’s boys played spirited football when India were first invited to play the King’s Cup in 1977.

In the round robin tournament involving six teams, India finished third. India won two matches against Singapore and Indonesia and drew against hosts Thailand and mighty South Korea.

The only match they lost was against Malaysia and finished with six points. The team was coached by the ever-smiling Sahu Mewalal, the legendary striker, who scored India’s match-winner against Iran in the 1951 Asian Games final.

Football Lounge

Coutinho stars as Brazil thump Bolivia in Copa America opener

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Brazil lacked a cutting edge in the absence of star forward Neymar.

Sao Paulo (Brazil): Philippe Coutinho scored two second-half goals as Brazil kicked off their Copa America with a 3-0 victory over Bolivia.

On Friday, the Barcelona attacker netted twice inside five minutes before substitute Everton put the result beyond doubt with a long-range strike at Sao Paulo’s Morumbi Stadium, reports Xinhua news agency.

Despite the comprehensive scoreline, the five-time world champions were below their best against an organised if unthreatening Bolivia outfit.

For long periods, Brazil lacked a cutting edge in the absence of star forward Neymar, who was ruled out of the tournament last week because of an ankle injury.

“It was a tough match for us,” Coutinho told reporters after the game. “At half-time, the manager (Tite) asked us to focus more and to control the ball better. We managed to do that. The first goal changed the course of the match.”

Brazil dominated possession early but struggled to find ways past a resolute Bolivia defence. Roberto Firmino and Thiago Silva had early chances from corners while Coutinho failed to make clean contact with a header after a Filipe Luis cross.

Tite opted against making changes at half-time and his faith was rewarded almost immediately.

Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana consulted the video assistant referee before ruling that Adrian Jusino used his left hand to obstruct Richarlison’s chipped shot. Coutinho then dispatched the resultant spot-kick into the bottom left corner.

The goal quickly released the pressure on Brazil and the Selecao netted again four minutes later when Coutinho headed in after a precise cross from his former Liverpool teammate Firmino.

Everton, introduced as an 85th-minute substitute for David Neres, completed the rout with a fine solo goal, five minutes from time.

The Gremio forward cut in from the left before smashing a low drive from the edge of the box that curled into the bottom right corner of Carlos Lampe’s goal.

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Star Sports renews exclusive broadcast rights for EPL till 2022

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Star Sports will broadcast over 250 Premier League games LIVE across the network and beam all 380 games LIVE on its digital platform Hotstar

Mumbai: For the past two decades, Star Sports, India’s leading sports broadcaster has continued to entertain football fans in India with top flight English football. On Friday, Star Sports announced that it will continue its partnership with Premier League for the next three years running up to the 2021-22 season.

The renewal reinforces Star Sports’ and Hotstar’s commitment to football in India, with the best of global and Indian football action. Star Sports will broadcast more than 250 Premier League games LIVE across the network and beam All 380 games LIVE on Hotstar.

Commenting on the partnership, Gautam Thakar, CEO, Star Sports, said, “We are excited to continue our partnership with the Premier League and are proud to showcase the best of football on Star Sports. As the home of sports, we are delighted to bring the Premier league to passionate fans in India and look forward to many fantastic seasons of football in the years ahead.”

Premier League director of broadcasting, Paul Molnar said, “We look forward to continuing to work with Star to make the best Premier League action available to the many passionate football fans in India who closely follow our clubs and the competition.”

The world’s most watched league will continue to showcase the talent of Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Mo Salah (Liverpool), Paul Pogba (Man United), Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal), Harry Kane (Tottenham) on the field with Pep Guardiola (Man City), Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool), Unai Emery (Arsenal) and Ole Gunnar Solskjær (Man United) orchestrating the team movements from off the field. The quality of play continues to get better in the league with promoted teams putting up a challenge.

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Football Lounge

Casillas yet to decide on future

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Iker Casillas suffered a heart attack recently.

Madrid: Former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas on Thursday said he had not yet decided whether he would retire from the sport after suffering a heart attack amid rumours in several Portuguese newspapers that he would hang up his gloves before the start of the next season.

Cassilas, on his Twitter account, reshared a previous tweet in which he said he was yet undecided about his future in the sport.

In the original tweet, published just over two weeks after his heart attack on May 1, the former Real Madrid goalie said: “Retirement, there will be a day that I’ll have to retire. Let me announce this when the moment comes. For now … everyone relax! I had an appointment yesterday with Dr. Filipe Macedo. Everything is ok. This is great news that I would like to share with all of you!”

In his retweet, he said: “The same from this tweet from one month ago, except the part of the meeting with the Doctor. More than anything because my appointment is tomorrow. Big hug to everyone.”

The former Real Madrid captain suffered a heart attack during a training session with his current team, FC Porto, casting major doubt about his ability to continue in the sport.

Casillas’ personal situation got even more complicated when his wife, journalist Sara Carbonero, announced that she went through a malignant ovarian tumour surgery on May 21.

On June 6, various Portuguese newspapers said that Casillas met Pinto da Costa, President of FC Porto, where he was offered the possibility to continue working in the club, but as part of the technical staff.

Casillas made his professional debut with Real Madrid under then coach, Welshman John Benjamin Toshack, against Athletic Bilbao in September 1999 in San Mames at the age of 19.

At Real Madrid, Casillas was in the team that won the UEFA Champions League three times, LaLiga five times, the Copa del Rey twice, the Spanish Super Cup four times and the FIFA Club World Cup twice.

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