Busan, Oct. 5: India’s faint hopes of squeezing into the football quarter finals evaporated into thin air on Saturday night as Bahrain and North Korea captured the two berths as the best second-placed teams.
Bahrain scored thrice in the first quarter hour against Palestine in Changwon to move clear of the Indian and Omanese goal quotient. They didn’t bother scoring another goal, they just made sure Palestine didn’t get one.
Of the six groups, two (B and E) saw the runner-up teams finishing with four and five points. They were straightaway eliminated. In groups A, C, D and F, Oman, India, Bahrain and North Korea came second with six points each.
India’s goal difference was plus three, so was Oman’s. Bahrain had plus four, North Korea plus five. The two-goal defeat to China let India down. A draw would have helped them advance. The way they played that night, a 1-1 result was very much on.
Soon after the last set of matches ended on Saturday, the Indian management cried foul. “We’ve no doubt that Bahrain rigged the match against Palestine,” accused India manager Santo Mitra.
The footballers spent the day in anxiety. They were hoping for a miracle to happen and at the same time pressurising the manager to arrange for early return tickets.
All but five players are booked on the October 13 flight but everyone now wants to return within a day or two. Poor Mitra did a lot of running around to have the bookings changed but with no success.
Bagan quartet stuck
The Mohun Bagan quarter — Bhaichung Bhutia, Rennedy Singh, Rajat Ghosh Dastidar and Satish Bharti — wanted to play the AFC Champions League match against Valencia on Wednesday. But it was clear by the evening that they won’t be able to make it in time.
There were frantic calls from the Mohun Bagan officials inquiring about the status of their players’ reservation. There were even efforts to contact IOA president Suresh Kalmadi and request him to organise tickets for the four players on Saturday.