Monday, March 9, 2009

Bangalore Super Division Again!

Karnataka Police faced Sports Authority of India as four of us from FC NGV made our way to the KSFA ground opposite the Garuda Mall in Bangalore on a sunny Friday afternoon. Four tickets for four of us was a change from the last time when we were offered two tickets for three people with the remaining twenty bucks going into the pocket of the man behind the counter. There was a slightly bigger crowd than last time and with a couple of female supporters thrown in, the place had a more vibrant feel to it.

The game was far superior to the first one we saw and it was a case of the organization of SAI against the flair of the cops. For most of the first half, SAI had ten men behind the ball and while they were prepared to face a lot of pressure, they never allowed the opposition any opportunity on goal. The policemen passed the ball well and varied their attacks from the centre and the flanks. They were clearly superior in terms of skill but there was enough evidence in the first few minutes that SAI would be difficult to break down.

The outstanding feature of SAI’s game was that whenever they did get possession, they knew how to keep it and while they seemed to lack pace and presence up front, they provided hints of the damage they could cause. The coppers kept the attacks up and in their number 10 they had an experienced attacking midfielder playing just behind the two strikers who was dictating play and trying to set his strikers free whenever he had the chance.

SAI scored the first goal against the run of play late in the first half when a couple of good passes allowed them to cross the ball from the right and a hard working SAI winger (who kept switching sides) was there to head the ball efficiently in. Incidentally the scorer happened to be someone who Anshu has played weekend football with, and it inevitably led to ‘loser’ jibes being directed at Anshu.

We expected the second half to be the same as the first and it started off pretty much in the same vein. The copper’s number ten was less involved and hence if anything, SAI seemed more comfortable in their defensive third. Then all of a sudden a Police player received a second horribly soft yellow card and had to leave the field. It seemed as if the world had turned against the police.

But just like we’ve seen Arsenal do at times recently, the side with the man down turned on the heat after their unjustly received punishment. Not for a moment did SAI’s numerical advantage become apparent over the half an hour or more that they had one. They had to defend wave after wave of attack and seemed vulnerable to crosses with yet another goalkeeper at this level found waving arms wildly every time a high ball came in the box. Yet this same goalkeeper also pulled off a stunning save to keep his side’s lead intact.

By the eightieth minute or so, it seemed unfair that the cops might have to go home without points. Their superiority did however pay off with an equalizer about five minutes from time. I can’t remember the goal at the moment but it had been coming. Not only was the attacking relentless, a number of SAI players had completely run out of steam and were hardly making any contribution on the pitch. Example, the SAI number ten who would not move five feet to receive a pass.

His counterpart on the other team was in a completely different mood all together. After a phase of disappearance from the game, he came into his own again and made a number of attempts to lob the ball behind defenders for his strikers to run into though none proved useful.
The assistant referee held up the sign for two minutes of injury time and as the ball rolled out for a SAI throw-in as the two minutes winded down, we prepared to leave. A foul throw meant that possession changed hands and it the throw reached Cop number ten around ten yards outside the SAI area. A quick look up, a lobbed shot that found the perfect spot in the net to sail into, a pumped fist and the match had been won with the last kick of the match. Simply stunning!
So ended another delightful outing. Hope to catch some more action and a few more teams. Hopefully HAL next.

Two games from the stands is very little experience to pass judgment on the state of football in Karnataka. Speed, stamina and skills all seem to be woefully below any level that the EPL fed spectator is used to. The mission should of course be to discover the story behind the performances and understand the factors that have led to the creation of existing standards. I won’t be surprised if many of the players hardly ever practice with the teams they represent. How these clubs exist, what is their role in player development and access to talent pool etc. are all mysteries which I hope to some day uncover. For the moment I’m looking forward to the next chance to support my local league.

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