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Rain rules the roost

Sunil Chetri

New Delhi: India’s unexpected goalless draw against Nepal in the Nehru Cup, on Tuesday, has raised questions about the futility of holding the country’s only international football tournament on an unfit pitch.

While the chief coach Wim Koevermans was visibly upset by the conditions of the ground that played a major role in halting India’s winning run in the tournament, some officials felt the tournament should not have been scheduled during the rainy season.

Incessant rain had spoiled the show in the platinum jubilee Nehru Cup from Day One. Non-availability of another ground and a packed fixture forced the organisers continue playing matches at the waterlogged ground.

“Rain had marred the show in Delhi earlier, too, but somehow, India had the advantage most of the time,” reminded an official. In August 2008 India beat Tajikistan on a slushy Ambedkar Stadium ground in Delhi to qualify for the Asian Cup after 24 years. In July last year, India held mighty United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the same venue under heavy rain.

Another AIFF official, however, defended the decision saying it was difficult to get international teams at any other time of the year. “Moreover, the monsoon in Delhi has come late this time,” argued the official.

However, there were no convincing answers to why no one spared a thought about keeping a reserve ground or no senior AIFF office bearer could be seen at the stadium in the last few days to fight the odds. AIFF president Praful Patel visited the ground only during the opening ceremony.

The manpower at the ground was also woefully short. After torrential rain lashed the capital since morning on Tuesday, only half a dozen people could be seen trying to repair the damage. Even the super sopper could not be used as the turf was too soft.

It has been raining so much for the past few days that the Indian team could not go through their morning practice on Wednesday at their Jaypee Greens base in Greater Noida. There was a pool of water in the field and the Indians had a light workout at the nearby basketball court.

Koevermans, however, was restrained in his comments despite Tuesday’s frustrating draw. “ I am disappointed by the result and the pitch,” he said.

“The conditions suited Nepal better. Anything can happen on this surface. But that’s the way it is for both teams. We have to cope with pressure. It is unfortunate that games have to be played on such a pitch.”