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Ronaldo closes in on 700 goals, England lose in Euro qualifiers

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Ronaldo

Paris: England missed an opportunity to qualify for Euro 2020 as they slid to a 2-1 loss in the Czech Republic, while Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 699th goal in a routine Portugal win over Luxembourg.

Harry Kane converted a fifth-minute penalty in Prague after Raheem Sterling was clipped by Lukas Masopust, the Tottenham striker taking his qualifying tally to seven goals.

But Czech Republic, humbled 5-0 by England in the reverse fixture last March, levelled shortly after as Jakub Brabec bundled in from a corner for his first international goal.

Substitute Zdenek Ondrasek swept home the winner on his debut for the hosts on 85 minutes, a goal that ended England’s decade-long unbeaten run in qualifying spanning 43 matches.

England’s last qualifying defeat came ahead of the 2010 World Cup when they lost 1-0 away to Ukraine in October 2009.

Southgate’s side remain top of Group A on 12 points alongside the Czechs, who have played a game extra. England could still clinch qualification on Monday with victory in Bulgaria if Kosovo fail to beat Montenegro.

World champions France claimed a 1-0 win away to Iceland as Olivier Giroud delivered the only goal with a penalty on 66 minutes in Reykjavik.

Giroud has played sparingly for Chelsea this season but the 33-year-old is now just four goals behind Michel Platini (41) for second on France’s list of all-time leading scorers.

France are level on 18 points with Turkey atop Group H ahead of Monday’s showdown in Paris, where victory would send Didier Deschamps’ men through to the finals.

Cenk Tosun popped up with a 90th-minute winner for Turkey as they scraped past Albania 1-0 in Istanbul.

Iceland’s first home loss in qualifying since June 2013 dropped the Nordic island nation six points adrift of the top two.

Juventus star Ronaldo grabbed his 94th goal at international level in Portugal’s 3-0 home victory over Luxembourg.

Bernardo Silva opened the scoring in Lisbon in the first half before Ronaldo added a second on 65 minutes with a magnificent chip following an error in the visitors’ defence.

Goncalo Guedes added a late third although defending champions Portugal still trail Group B leaders Ukraine by five points.

Portugal next travel to Kiev to face a Ukraine side on the cusp of qualification following a 2-0 home win over Lithuania secured by Atalanta midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi’s brace.

A goalless draw between Montenegro and Bulgaria eliminated both teams from contention in Group A, while it was a night to remember for Andorra.

The minnows won their first European qualifier in history after 56 defeats in a row as Marc Vales’ second-half header earned Andorra a 1-0 victory over 10-man Moldova.

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ISL: Holders Bengaluru held by NorthEast United

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Action during the BFCvsNEUFC match.

Bengaluru: Holders Bengaluru FC began their title defence with a goalless draw against a spirited NorthEast United FC in the Indian Super League (ISL).

Debuts were handed out to several new signings, including Asamoah Gyan, Raphael Augusto and Ashique Kuruniyan but the teams couldn’t be separated at the end the riveting contest.

Bengaluru got off the blocks quickly and pressed NorthEast high up the field.

Ashique announced his arrival with a trademark solo run from the left-back position in the 15th minute. The former FC Pune City player beat three players on his way into the box but shot wide of the mark.

NorthEast United were pinned to their own half in the early stages but were the first to have a shot on target. Collecting a layoff from Asamoah Gyan, Uruguayan Martin Chaves dribbled past Juanan and forced a diving save from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the 21st minute.

A few minutes later, Raphael Augusto split the Highlanders’ defence with an exquisite pass that released Udanta into the box but the Indian winger failed to test the goalkeeper with a wayward shot from a promising position.

The intensity dropped as the first half wore on. The Bengaluru defence failed to clear a loose ball inside the box after the half-hour mark and Rahul Bheke’s header back to Gurpreet ended up with Chaves who slashed wide in front of an open goal.

The game opened up after the break and both teams started finding openings.

Martin Chaves’ rampaging run through the centre in the 52nd minute caught the Bengaluru defence off-guard. The forward found Gyan in space inside the box and the Ghanaian striker’s splendid effort bounced back off the bar.

Bengaluru, however, responded by fashioning two huge chances. Sunil Chhetri won a header at the back post and found Michael Onwu at point-blank range but he could not sort his feet out in time and the danger was cleared.

A headed clearance by Mislav Komorski after the hour-mark fell to Nishu Kumar who unleashed a powerful strike at the goal which Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in the Highlanders’ goal brilliantly kept out with one hand while diving to his right.

Carles Cuadrat brought Eugeneson Lyngdoh on with less than ten minutes to go as Bengaluru tried to find a late winner but the NorthEast defence, led by Komorski and Kai Heerings, and screened by an ever-present Jose Leudo in midfield, did well to close the gaps, frustrate the hosts and pick up a point.

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New team Hyderabad FC have prepared thoroughly for ISL, says Robin Singh

Ashish Mani Tiwari

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New Delhi: Out of favour India striker Robin Singh has said the home team’s draw in the FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Bangladesh was a piece of quality football by both teams.

He praised Bangladesh for fighting valiantly. “Kudos to Bangladesh, they defended really well,” he told Sports Lounge.

Bangladesh were on top of the game right from the very beginning. But India maintained ball possession and created chances. “Bangladesh’s defence was really compact, but we (India) kept on attacking,” he added.

The match ended 1-1.  Defender Adil Khan scored a late goal to help India salvage a point. They have two points from three matches in the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers, one more than Bangldesh.

Skipper Sunil Chhetri expressed his disappointment at India failing to win at home.

“We couldn’t deliver a performance to match the atmosphere at the Salt Lake last night, and the dressing room is very disappointed about it,” tweeted Chhetri.

Robin was recently present at the launch of the Tango League in Mumbai. He praised the initiative for putting focus on grassroots level.

“The adidas Tango League is an extremely popular urban football concept in India and across the globe. I wish I had something like this when I was growing up in football. With brands like adidas coming forward and facilitating such grass root efforts, the league is a boost for city amateurs”.

Robin will play in the sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) for the new franchise Hyderabad FC. He is also in form, scoring a hat-trick in one of Hyderabad’s pre-season matches.

He said they have prepared well for the  ISL. “We have not lost any game in pre-season.  It certainly lifts up the spirit up of team and we are looking forward for the upcoming season.”

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Thin talent pool, low match count: Problems aplenty for Indian football coach Igor Stimac

Jaydeep Basu

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Igor Stimac
New India football coach Igor Stimac is already under pressure. Photos: Twitter and Google.

New Delhi: Former India coach Bob Houghton would offer a sarcastic smile whenever there was a mention of India’s large population and its untapped soccer talent. When he spoke, his tone hung somewhere between sarcastic and annoyed.

“You talk about 130 million people. Yet, your pool of footballers is smaller than a tiny European nation,” he once told this correspondent. “There are not more than 75 players from whom I can choose my national team. That’s not enough,” he argued.

Houghton’s irritation was easily understandable. There was no Indian Super League (ISL) during his tenure (2006-11). I-League had 10 or 12 teams. The regulation allowed each club to field maximum of three foreigners in the playing eleven. The number of frontline Indian footballers never crossed the hundred mark.

The situation has gone from bad to worse. Though it should be better because of two parallel leagues and bigger number of teams. Almost all top players play in ISL. It enjoys nearly cent percent monopoly in the national team.

Under the current regulation, each ISL team can have maximum of five foreigners on the field at any given time. It further shortens the national coach’s options. Arguably, the pool of footballers is reduced to 60. Nearly half of them get a call to the national camp. So much for a nation of 130 million!

Igor Stimac

India have drawn two of their three Fifa World Cup qualifying games under Igor Stimac.

There are other problems too. The number of top-tier matches in India have come down drastically. If not alarmingly. Two decades ago there was a situation when All India Football Federation (AIFF) felt footballers were playing too many matches. It issued a circular saying no top-tier footballer would be allowed to play more than 50 matches in a domestic season!

It was a circular in complete contrast to the present situation. A look at the list of national team players would reveal none of them played more than 25 matches (let’s make it 30) in a season for the last couple of years.

A national team footballer recently said: “I played 120 or more matches in the first three seasons of my career. Now I struggle find even 25 competitive matches in a domestic season.” Not exactly a huge compliment for calendar planners.

Sources say a technical person in the AIFF recently raised this issue in several internal meetings. He wondered how a 10-team closed league and just a six-month domestic season can take India to the world level. He questioned the lack of match practice for seniors and youth team policies too.

The latest information is that the person is being branded as a “difficult” person, who asks “unreasonable” questions. Not to be surprised if he is shown the door.

Is it an unwritten law that only footballers from the ISL are eligible for the national team? Well, one has no idea. Previously, coaches used to look for players beyond the national league. One would like to believe the policy is still in place.

Jiri Pesek

The visionary Jiri Pesek was bold enough to induct unknown but talented players into the Indian football team.

At least two coaches, who won I-League titles, felt the need of bigger pool of players. “Some talented footballers are there in I-League. They may still not be ready for the national team. But a few stints at the national camps could be good for the future,” said one of them.

Gone are the days when Jiri Pesek would spot a player in Himachal Santosh Trophy team and would induct him in national squad. Or an unknown teenager from Sikkim would straightaway be introduced at national level by the coach at his own risk.

Things have changed. Dramatically, post 2014. The stamp on the back is somewhat important. Though the difference in talent is not exactly huge. In fact, it is the lack of extraordinary talent (barring a few) is adding to the problem.

In 2019, India is a market-driven country. There is no place for welfare measures. Call them inept, call them unprofessional, but they know how to count their money. Football is part and parcel of society. Things can’t be different here.

Find more articles from our sports columnist at Jaydeep Basu.

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