India is the world's second most populous nation - but lies a dismal 130th in the FIFA world football rankings. That's behind such mighty footballing nations as Antigua and Barbuda (population, 91,000), Kyrgyzstan, Surinam and Equatorial Guinea. So when I went along last night to see a game in India's top competitive league, the I-League, I wasn't expecting too much. And I wasn't disappointed.
As for the standard of play, don't take my word for it. The match report in this morning's New Indian Express, describes Chennai City as 'looking every bit the relegation fodder they were.' Ouch! Their consolation goal in the closing minutes was scored by Haroon Amiri from Afghanistan - one of the few nations to have a lower FIFA ranking than India. One of Shillong's batch was scored by their Cameroonian star, Dipanda Dicka, and another by Brazilian Fabio Pena.
Each I-League club can include up to four foreign nationals in its squad - as well as Amiri, Chennai City has two Brazilians and a Nigerian. But this is hardly the most lucrative part of the world for African and Latin American players, and while their presence nudges up the overall standard that's simply from 'grim' to 'not very good at all'.
So, a wash-out of an evening? Not at all! It was good to see the Nehru stadium - capacity 40,000. And fun to be part of a lively crowd, officially put at just under 5,000, though that seems to me on the generous side.
About half those present were under twelve and I guess had free tickets. Hundreds more youngsters were in Chennai for an inter-state football tournament (including some women's teams) and they too didn't have to pay. Here's the Kerala squad - who told me they were supporting Chennai City (a bad call).
I was given a complimentary ticket, though I would have been happy to pay. I wondered whether any of the crowd had shelled out good money to see the match. It was all very professional - floodlights, officials, PA announcements. But I can't work out the business model.
Or the footballing model, for that matter!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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