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Black eye at ballgame

Calcutta, Sept. 8: India shone ' the margin of defeat dramatically improved from 7-0 to 4-0 ' but Bengal had its dark half-hour of shame at Salt Lake stadium before the visiting team and a few thousand Japanese fans when power went off.

The visitors took it in their stride ' blackouts do happen in Japan or in the West during football matches ' but in its hour of humiliation, the Bengal government smelt a rat.

It said a rat had entered a substation close to the stadium, where the India-Japan return match in the World Cup qualifiers was being played this evening, causing the failure. A large part of the stadium was plunged in darkness for about 25 minutes and the match suffered a delay of about half-an-hour.

If the Indian team wasn't exactly putting on display a brilliant performance before the power failure, the period of darkness seemed to cast a spell on its football, too, once the match resumed.

At least coach Stephen Constantine thought so. 'The power failure did affect us. The boys were playing with a lot of vigour in the first half and the break didn't help us in any way. It caused a lapse in concentration.'

The result was 4-0. India had lost the away match 7-0.

Central minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who is the All India Football Federation president, claimed he saved Bengal further embarrassment. Das Munshi, who was in the stadium, was seen rushing to the FIFA (world football body) match commissioner's side to pacify him.

'The FIFA match commissioner has supreme powers and I knew he would not tolerate such a goof-up. He was going to complain to FIFA, but I convinced him that the match would resume,' said Das Munshi.

Fuming at what he called the 'great Bengal flop show', the minister said he had faxed a letter to the Prime Minister asking for an inquiry.

'Aamader naak kata gechhe aajke (we have egg on our face),' Munshi was shouting even an hour after the match.

The visitors didn't quite look at it that way, though they were possibly only acting gracious. A member of Brazil's dream team of the eighties and the coach of the Japanese team, Zico, said: 'The longer than expected break (interval) did not affect us. These things can happen.'

But the large media contingent from Japan was getting restive. Japan is three-and-a-half hours ahead of India and the 30-minute delay made the journalists' work more difficult.

'I have to rush through my copy now to meet the deadline back home,' said Kenichiro Kosaka of Tokyo Sports Press Co. Ltd. The delay also forced a programming shuffle at the Japanese TV station taking live feed from DD Sports.

'It doesn't really matter. We are happy to have won,' said Tibichi Miyaguchi, who came from Japan with girlfriend Janette.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was about to leave office for the day when power went off there, too.

Looking round the dark surroundings, a grim Bhattacharjee said: 'Even the stadium is in the dark.'

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