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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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Meghalaya to face Bangladesh school in Subroto Cup boys U-17 final

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Subroto Cup

New Delhi: Hopewell Elias Secondary School of Meghalaya and Bangladesh Krira Shiksha Protisthan will face each other in the summit clash of the U-17 boys Subroto Cup international football tournament after they won their respective semifinals here on Sunday.

In the first semi-final, Hopewell Elias Secondary School beat BSL +2 High School of Jharkhand 3-2 to reach the final.today’s sports news

In the second semi-final, Bangladesh Krira Shiksha Protisthan defeated Gorkha Rifles Regimental Centre 5-4 on penalty shoot-out to make it to the final.

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Close contests at Subroto Cup U17 Junior Boys quarter-finals

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Subroto Cup
Action during Saturday's Subroto Cup competition.

New Delhi: On Day 7 of the U17 Boys category in the Subroto Cup International Football tournament, four quarter- final matches were held. The first quarter-final saw 11 Gorkha Rifles Regimental Centre, Army Boys defeat Tripura Sports School, Badharghat, Tripura 1-0, in a closely contested match.

In the other matches, BSL +2 High School, Sector II D, Bokaro Steel City, Jharkhand saw the better of Govt. Pukpui High School, Pukpui (Lunglei), Mizoram in a penalty shoot-out, after the match remained drawn 1-1 at the end of the final whistle. In the tie-breaker, the Jharkhand school edged past Pukpui High school 4-2 for the final scoreline to read 5-3.

In another closely contested quarter-final match, Hopewell Elias Higher Secondary School beat Bampather Bengenabari Higher Secondary School, Charaideo, Assam 1-0. In the international quarter final match Bangladesh Krira Shiksha Protisthan (BKSP) saw the better of Esteqlal School from Afghanistan 2-1. The semi-finals are to be played on August 27, 2019.

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Benzema inspires Real Madrid, Fati lights up Barca win over Valencia in La Liga

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karim benzema
Karim Benzema exults after scoring on Saturday.

Madrid: Karim Benzema scored twice for Real Madrid in a 3-2 win against Levante with Eden Hazard making his La Liga debut while later Barcelona breezed to a 5-2 win against Valencia with more magic from 16-year-old Ansu Fati.

Benzema’s goals came just six minutes apart in the first half at a wet Santiago Bernabeu, before Casemiro put Real 3-0 up.

However Levante, who had won their previous two outings, made a fight of it in the second half as they pulled goals back through Borja Mayoral and Gonzalo Melero.

Hazard also came off the bench for the final half-hour to make his first La Liga appearance after a thigh injury had interrupted the start of his Real career following his 100 million-euro ( 110 million) move from Chelsea.

The Belgian could now start when Real go to Paris Saint-Germain for their opening Champions League game on Wednesday.

Gareth Bale will also be available to face PSG after suspension kept him out here, but Sergio Ramos will be unable to play because of a European ban.

Zidane was also without the injured Luka Modric here. However, as well as Hazard, fellow summer signing Eder Militao came off the bench in the second half and the former Porto defender could start in Paris.

Fati scores again

Real would have won by a greater margin here had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping from Aitor Fernandez, who produced a stunning one-handed stop to keep out a Benzema shot midway through the first half.

Atletico Madrid retained their place at the top of the table, but only by one point from Real Madrid after their first defeat of the season when they lost 2-0 at Real Sociedad at the Basque club’s newly refurbished stadium.

Later, former Real Madrid assistant coach Albert Celades replaced sacked Marcelino Garcia Toral as boss of Valencia who were routed 5-2 at Barcelona.

With Lionel Messi still out and watching from the stands it was left to Fati, the teenager from Guinea-Bissau, to take the plaudits.

Fati, who became the third youngest La Liga scorer when he came off the bench to net in a 2-2 draw at Osasuna this month, scored again in the second minute, before providing the assist for Frenkie de Jong’s 7th minute goal.

The teenager earned his standing ovation from the Camp Nou crowd when he came off after an hour.

Kevin Gameiro got Valencia off the mark but a brace from the fit again Luis Suarez after a contribution from Gerard Pique meant Max Gomez’s injury time second for the visitors was purely academic.

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