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War-torn Syria seek joy through football in Intercontinental Cup

Mario Rodrigues

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Syia began their Intercontinental Cup campign defeating DPR Korea 5-2.

Mumbai: Spare a thought for the Syrian national team or the Syrian Arab Federation for Football or even their embattled leader who survived a US-inspired imperial plot to bring about ‘regime change’ by sponsoring the most dreaded bunch of terrorists possible.

Yet, despite the country being laid waste, crippling economic sanctions, security concerns and defections from the national team, Syria qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup and came within a whisker of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

The West Asian nation haven’t won much in international football, unlike India, which was a continental powerhouse in the days of yore, and despite the rapid whittling of its supremacy have managed to win enough silverware in its backyard in low rated regional competitions.

On the other hand, Syria’s last international success came way back in the 2012 West Asian Football Federation Championship.

Over the past decade Syria have been unsuccessfully trying to win a trophy in India, having sent teams to participate in the Nehru Cup in 2007, 2009 and 2012.

Since its inception in 1982, some of the best teams and players in the world have participated in this now forgotten tournament although the quality of teams had began to decrease with the passage of time and the diminishing clout of the central government. All these three editions of the Nehru Cup were held in the national capital.

In their first visit Syria topped the round-robin group stage in the five-team field also comprising Cambodia, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and India, defeating the Blue Tigers 2-3 en route.

But Bob Houghton’s boys turned the tables on the visitors with a 1-0 triumph in the title round courtesy an NP Pradeep strike. This was India’s maiden success in the tournament.

In 2009, with a marginally better team, Syria again topped the table after the round-robin group stage in a more competitive five-team field (Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and India), again defeating the hosts by a solitary goal in the league encounter.

In a pulsating final India took the lead in the 114th minute of extra time only for Syria to equalise in the dying seconds of the game. In the tie-breaker that went into sudden death, Subrata Pal saved three kicks to script a sensational win.

If Syria thought they would be third time lucky in 2012, it was not to be, as they finished fourth in the five-team field behind group toppers Cameroon, India and Maldives albeit ahead of Nepal and bowed out.

Wim Koevermans’ men went on to beat the higher ranked African nation in the final 5-4 via the tie-breaker after the match ended 2-2 and complete a hat-trick of titles.

Syria are now back to settle a long standing score. A second tier team in the continental arena behind the obvious powerhouses who invariably manage to qualify for the World Cup time and again, Syria have not enjoyed good results this year though they have sometimes held their own against the stalwarts in the recent past.

Under reinstated national coach Fajr Ibrahim (who has been here before) Syria bring a largely experimental team for the 2019 Intercontinental Cup (a misnomer now, since all the four teams figuring are Asian) with 13 players yet to make their senior international team debut and two who have less than a handful of appearances, meaning they are keen to give their recent under-23 squad some experience.

The experienced ones in the lot are skipper and 36-year-old forward Firas Al-Khatib (31 goals and 66 caps), goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma (49 caps), midfielder Temar Haj Mohamad (31 caps), defender Amro Jenyat and forward Nasouh Nakdali (20 caps each) and attacking midfielder Mohammad Marmour (seven caps) who play in Lebanon.

As the top ranked team and favourites, Syria have their task cut out. And they have begun with a bang, trouncing the 1993 Nehru Cup winners North Korea – another country subject to hostile and hypocritical economic sanctions by the West – 5-2 in their tournament opener.

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India suffer another big defeat in Intercontinental Cup

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India next play Syria in their last group league match on Tuesday.

Ahmedabad: India’s desperate attempt in the second half wasn’t enough as they went down 2-5 to DPR Korea in their second match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup at the EKA Arena.

With two losses in as many games, India still have a chance of making it to the final, provided they beat Syria by a huge margin in their next match, and hope Tajikistan beat DPR Korea in the other.

While Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Sunil Chhetri scored one each to reduce the margin for India, DPR Korea captain Jong Il Gwan was the star of the show scoring two, and assisting another. Furthermore, Sim Hyon Jin, and Ri Un Chol, and Ri Hyon Kin scored one apiece for the winners.

Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac said that there was “courage, and confidence on display in the second half.”

“In the second-half, we came out with out with heads up. We had the courage, and confidence when we decided to play football. In the first-half, we played without courage and self- confidence,” he stated in the post-match press conference.

“I gave the players the chance to play for India and asked them to enjoy their football. But if you do not show courage, and fight you cannot win,” he added.

“In the second-half, we started taking responsibility, and created chances. We were dangerous in front of their goal. But it was difficult to keep shape, and go up and down continuously. But I’m proud of the way they played,” the Coach explained.

Down 0-3 in the first half, a couple of changes by India Head Coach Igor Stimac at half-time brought back the thrust for India. The introduction of Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Udanta Singh in place of Manvir Singh, and Brandon Fernandes provided India the much-needed impetus.

The Blue Tigers pulled one back soon when Sunil Chhetri latched on to a stray ball, and played Chhangte through the channel. The latter, took control, and smashed it into the bottom corner. However, Ri Chol soon added a fourth for Korea, after being played through by captain Gwon.

In the 71st minute, Sunil Chhetri managed another one for India – his 71st International goal off a cross from Udanta.

India next play Syria in their last group league match on July 16.

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Barcelona sign Griezmann transfer from Atletico Madrid

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Barcelona: Barcelona have announced that they have signed French forward Antoine Griezmann on a five-season contract.

The announcement came after the player’s international representatives paid his 120-million-euro buyout clause included in his contract with Atletico Madrid at the LaLiga offices.

“FC Barcelona has paid the 120 million euro buyout clause to release Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid,” the Catalan club said in a statement on its website on Friday.

“The player will sign a contract with his new club for the next five seasons, through to 30 June 2024, with a buyout clause of 800 million euros.”

The 28-year-old could be unveiled to the media and fans during the weekend so that he can join the team for the first pre-season training session scheduled for July 15.

This is Barcelona’s third signing for the new season, following midfielder Frenkie de Jong on a move from Ajax and goalkeeper Neto who joined Barcelona from Valencia.

It came a year after Griezmann turned down an offer by Barcelona and his refusal was revealed in a controversial documentary produced by Barcelona’s Spain defender Gerard Pique.

He preferred to stay at Atletico and renew his contract with the capital team, an agreement that included a substantial salary raise.

However, it did not close the door for his potential departure as the 200-million-euro buyout clause was reduced to 120 million as of July 1.

Twelve days later, Griezmann became a Barcelona player.

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FC Goa sign winger Alex Romario Jesuraj for three years

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Alex Romario Jesuraj along with Ravi Puskur, Head of Technical Operations at FC Goa.

Panaji:  Winger Alexander Romario Jesuraj has joined FC Goa on a 3-year-deal, which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2022.

The 22-year-old made 34 appearances for I-League side Chennai City FC across the previous two seasons, ending 2018-’19 with a winners’ medal. The flying winger is widely considered as an exciting player, scoring four goals for CCFC, earning the sobriquet of “Namma Neymar Romario” (Our Neymar Romario).

Named after Brazilian legend and FIFA World Cup winner Romario, the winger from Dindigul broke into the Tamil Nadu Under-16 team at 13, also earning himself a place in the India Under-13 camp. He started his senior level career at Arrows FC in the Chennai Football Association Senior Division before switching to I-League side Chennai City FC.

Romario was happy to join FC Goa and reserved words of praise for their style of football. “I am very excited to join the best club in India. I watched them play last season and understood that this is the type of football that I wanted to play.”

Ravi Puskur, Head of Technical Operations at FC Goa, said, “We are very pleased with the capture of Romario, adding to the roster of highly talented Indian youngsters at the club. He is an exciting winger who is very dynamic on the pitch. He is also a proven winner, having won a league title at a relatively young age.”

The Tamil Nadu winger will be sent out on loan to Mohun Bagan for the upcoming season.

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