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Gahlot’s rise shows I-League clubs remain Indian football team’s supply line

Jaydeep Basu

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Talented young footballer Narender Gahlot's stock has risen after scoring against Syria in the Intercontinental Cup.

New Delhi: Arup Das rarely avails Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) facilities these days. Yet, he vividly remembers the bus on route number 764 that goes through Vasant Vihar.

Six years ago, a 13-year-old boy from the Capital’s Najafgarh area used to travel daily on this route to train in Josh academy, in which Das is a trustee.

The boy, Narender Gahlot, is currently on a high after scoring India’s only goal against Syria in Intercontinental Cup. “Narender is from a humble background. He used to travel a long distance on a daily basis to train in our academy. But we certainly found him a natural central defender, who could play at top level,” Das remembered.

Das has been proved right. From the Delhi based academy, Gahlot moved to Minerva FC and then showed his mettle for Indian Arrows in the I-League. He has now been recruited by a franchise in the cash-rich tournament, officially the country’s top league.

In three matches in the Intercontinental Cup, India, under Igor Stimac, conceded 10 goals, logged just one point and ended up winless. From statistical point of view, a disappointing show on the eve of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

But Mark Twain once famously said: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In this case, we would like to believe the American writer. After all, Stimac has raised hopes by introducing a host of youngsters to the national side. Indian fans expect these boys to learn from their mistakes and excel. Gahlot is one of them.

One gets a curious feeling while going through the list of newcomers in the national squad. All of them, from Jerry Lalrinzuala to Jobby Justin, are basically products of I-League clubs before they switched over to different franchises because of better financial offers.

The grassroots and youth development programme of the franchises, which received high praise from All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) executive committee on July 9, seems to have escaped the notice of Stimac!

Sahal Abdul Samad never played for an I-League club but he learned his football in an academy in the UAE. He also played at the university level in Kerala and Santosh Trophy for the state before joining a franchise unit.

Manvir Singh spent his youth career in the much-maligned Minerva Punjab FC (like Gahlot) and then joined Mohammedan Sporting.

Farukh Chaudhary honed his skills in I-League second division club Lonestar Kashmir. Lalrinzuala is a product of the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) elite academy. Justin came to limelight while playing for Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).

Well, the list could be longer in the post-2014 scenario. So, let’s not start a debate (unlike the AIFF press release) on who should receive accolades for developmental work and, of course, bag the Asian Champions League (ACL) spot.

Many eyebrows have been raised after India conceded nine goals in the first two matches against Tajikistan and DPR Korea. Rarely in the past few years India fared so poorly against their Asian rivals.

Stimac’s decision to play around 30 players in the King’s Cup in Thailand and the Intercontinental Cup is under question.

Spare a thought for the coach. He had to enter the Intercontinental Cup without a top player in every key position. Central defender Anas Edathodika had an injury. Central midfielder Pranoy Haldar suffered the same fate on the eve of campaign.

Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua is yet to recover from the operation he underwent recently. To make it worse, senior central defender Sandesh Jhingan was hardly fit.

In the World Cup qualifiers, India have been grouped with Asian champions Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Not exactly an easy group, but if India can log around 15 points, then they can hope to make the next round as one of the four second best teams from eight groups.

Fans would expect Stimac to make up his mind on his first 14 footballers, at least.

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Jamshedpur rally to beat debutants Odisha FC in ISL

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Action during JFC's match against Odisha FC.

Jamshedpur: A 10-man Jamshedpur FC overcame the odds and put up a spirited display to defeat Odisha FC 2-1 in a thrilling Indian Super League match.

Farukh Choudhary broke the deadlock in the 17th minute fortuitously, but the lead was put in danger by a red card that Bikash Jairu picked up with 10 minutes to go for the half-time whistle.

Aridane Santana stuck soon after to restore parity for Odisha FC but a fighting second-half culminated in Sergio Castel finding a winner in the 85th minute for the home side at the JRD Tata Sports Complex.

The two teams looked to get on the scoresheet early and it was Odisha FC that threatened first. Xisco Hernandez fed Jerry Mawhmingthanga down the right flank and the winger’s floating cross was headed just wide by Aridane Santana.

The re-branded Bhubaneswar-based side continued to push and went close again four minutes later. Xisco split the Jamshedpur defence to send Jerry free down the right flank but the winger’s curling effort ricocheted off the post.

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‘Ageless’ Cristiano Ronaldo not ready to retire yet

Press Trust of India

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Turin: Cristiano Ronaldo reassured Juventus supporters and his legions of fans worldwide that at 34 he’s not ready for retirement yet.

“Age is just a number. It does not mean that at 34, 35, 36 you are at the end of your career,” Ronaldo said at a news conference ahead of Juventus’ Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow.

“I can show that with my performances, how I play, the way I play, the way I still feel good, sharp, thinking about the game, more mature. This makes the difference.”

In the second season of a four-year deal at Juventus, Ronaldo had sparked concern among his fans when he said in an interview published a few weeks ago that he was starting to enjoy seeing himself “outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?”

Ronaldo recently scored his 700th goal as a professional while on international duty with Portugal and has been nominated for a record sixth Ballon d’Or award which would break his tie of five with Lionel Messi.

But Ronaldo said he’s more interested in winning a treble with Juventus.

“We want to win Serie A, we want to win the Cup, the Champions League,” he said. “Juventus should think big. … We are going to try to win all the trophies, we know it will be difficult, especially the league and the Champions League, but I think it is possible. Everything is possible.

“In terms of individual, I have nothing to say as this is individual. It is not the most important thing,” Ronaldo added.

“The most important is the collective awards. If you win the collective awards you have more chance to win the individual awards. … The Golden Ball is for me in second place.”

While retirement may not be on Ronaldo’s mind yet, family time is a big part of his life now.

“To win games, to score goals, to enjoy myself, to arrive home and see my kids happy and say, ‘Congratulations daddy for scoring a goal.’ That makes me happy,” he said. “This is my motivation to come to train, for the games, to entertain people and the fans with my passion.”

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Messi to battle Ronaldo, Van Dijk for Ballon d’Or award

Press Trust of India

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Paris: Lionel Messi will have Cristiano Ronaldo and Virgil van Dijk as rivals for the 2019 Ballon d’Or award. But not Neymar.

When the long list of 30 candidates was announced where Neymar has played for more than two years at Paris Saint-Germain the Brazil star’s name was missing from the nominations by a global voting panel of journalists.

Messi and Ronaldo’s 10-year grip on the individual award organised by France Football magazine was broken by Luka Modric last December.

Modric is also absent one year after he swept the Ballon d’Or and FIFA best player awards after a stellar 2018 with Real Madrid and Croatia.

World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe is favored to add a Ballon d’Or to her FIFA award won last month.

The United States star is joined on a 20-woman list by teammates Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan. Defending her title is Ada Hegerberg, winner of the inaugural women’s award, from Europe’s dominant club team Lyon which has six nominees.

Neymar has twice placed third in Ballon d’Or voting, both times finishing behind Messi and Ronaldo. Moving out of Messi’s shadow in Barcelona, where they won a Champions League title together in 2015, has not delivered the personal acclaim Neymar sought.

Messi won his sixth FIFA award last month, edging Van Dijk who starred in Liverpool’s Champions League-winning team.

Van Dijk would be the first defender topping the poll since Italy’s World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.

The Liverpool center back was among seven teammates nominated, including Alisson Becker and Roberto Firmino. They also won the Copa America with a Brazil team that managed without an injured Neymar.

Van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum also figured in the five nominees from a resurgent Netherlands team. No Dutch player has won since Marco van Basten in 1992.

Liverpool forwards Sadio Man and Mohamed Salah are among a six-strong African challenge, including Man ‘s Senegal teammate, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

The only Asian player on the list is South Korea forward Son Heung-min of Champions League finalist Tottenham.

The awards ceremony is December 2 in Paris.

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Men’s list: Sergio Ag ero (Argentina, Manchester City), Trent Alexander-Arnold (England, Liverpool), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon, Arsenal), Alisson Becker (Brazil, Liverpool), Karim Benzema (France, Real Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium, Manchester City), Frenkie De Jong (Netherlands, Ajax/Barcelona), Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands, Ajax/Juventus), Jo o F lix (Portugal, Benfica/ Atl tico Madrid), Roberto Firmino (Brazil, Liverpool), Antoine Griezmann (France, Atl tico Madrid/Barcelona), Eden Hazard (Belgium, Chelsea/Real Madrid), Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal, Napoli), Robert Lewandowski (Poland, Bayern Munich), Hugo Lloris (France, Tottenham), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria, Manchester City), Sadio Man (Senegal, Liverpool), Marquinhos (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain), Kylian Mbapp (France, Paris Saint-Germain), Lionel Messi (Argentina, Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Juventus), Mohamed Salah (Egypt, Liverpool), Bernardo Silva (Portugal, Manchester City), Son Heung-Min (South Korea, Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (England, Manchester City), Dusan Tadic (Serbia, Ajax), Marc-Andr ter Stegen (Germany, Barcelona), Donny van de Beek (Netherlands, Ajax), Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands, Liverpool), Georginio Wijnaldum (Netherlands, Liverpool).

Women’s list:

Kosovare Asllani (Sweden, Link pings/Tacon), Sarah Bouhaddi (France, Lyon), Lucy Bronze (England, Lyon), Pernille Harder (Denmark, Wolfsburg), Ada Hegerberg (Norway, Lyon), Amandine Henry (France, Lyon), Nilla Fischer (Sweden, Wolfsburg/Link pings), Tobin Heath (United States, Portland Thorns), Sofia Jakobsson (Sweden, Montpellier/Tacon), Sam Kerr (Australia, Perth Glory/Chicago Red Stars), Rose Lavelle (United States, Washington Spirit), Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany, Lyon), Marta (Brazil, Orlando Pride), Lieke Martens (Netherlands, Barcelona), Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands/Arsenal), Alex Morgan (United States, Orlando Pride), Megan Rapinoe (United States, Seattle Reign), Wendie Renard (France, Lyon), Sari van Veenendaal (Netherlands, Arsenal/Atletico Madrid), Ellen White (England, Manchester City).

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