Calcutta: It happened in the 88th minute and memories of Cristiano Junior came flooding back.
Trailing 0-1, McDowell Mohun Bagan were pressing hard for the equaliser against Deportivo Saprissa in their Group B match of the IFA Shield, at the Kalyani Stadium, on Sunday.
Saprissa goalkeeper Douglas Espinoza failed to gather cleanly an Okolie Odafe volley and Manish Bhargav rushed in to tap it home. And instead of the ball, Manish’s right-foot landed on Espinoza’s neck. For a few seconds or so, nobody knew what happened.
And then, when Espinoza was lying still, a panic-stricken Saprissa camp rushed to the ground.
Surprisingly, they have come to the competition without a doctor. Sensing danger, Mohun Bagan’s Australian physio Jonathon James Corner, too, ran to the ground.
Espinoza was yet to respond, as Corner wasted no time in giving the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Espinoza opened his eyes for a few moments and then again had a concussion. For nearly five minutes Corner and others tried getting Espinoza back to ‘life’.
Strangely, the ambulance was kept waiting. Reason: the driver could not be located!
And when the driver finally arrived, it was found out that the ambulance did not have an oxygen cylinder!
Espinoza opened his eyes for a few seconds before collapsing again as the ambulance sped off to a nearby nursing home.
He regained his consciousness at the nursing home and later the young Costa Rican goalkeeper was shifted to a private hospital at Salt Lake.
“He had a concussion after the collision and is now under observation. He is doing fine and there is no danger to his life. An MRI was done. too. Whether he would be taking part in the rest of the tournament remains to be seen,” a team source said later.
It was really a close shave for Espinoza, thanks to the ‘kiss of life’ from Corner that saved him.
“I did what I had to do. I did not think twice whether he was from Bagan or a rival player,” Corner said.
“We did not come with a doctor. We are extremely thankful to Mohun Bagan for saving our player’s life. That man (Corner) really did something for us,” reserve goalkeeper Fauso Sibaja, who replaced Espinoza after the restart, said in broken English. Fauso, however, could not come up with a convincing answer when asked why his team travelled without a doctor.
The real fault lies with the Indian Football Association, though.
Organising matches in a stadium like Kalyani, which is still not ready to host matches of this stature, was a big mistake.
Anything could have happened on Sunday. There was no medical facility available at the ground, hardly any co-ordination with zero security. Even while Espinoza was being treated, at least 25 photographers and television crew were zooming in to get the best shot. And the policemen, a minuscule minority, kept watching.
The Saprissa bench yelled for help, Corner shouted but not to avail, for around five minutes.
Odafe all played his part. In a show of poor sportsman spirit, the Nigerian got into an argument with the Saprissa players when he asked referee Santosh Kumar to restart the game as early as possible.
At that point of time Corner was attending to Espinoza.
Such behaviour showed the Bagan captain in poor light and was even admonished mildly by his team’s physio.
Odafe’s animated talk stoked the fire in the stands where supporters had already started to vent their ire. Fortunately, things did not go out of control.
Still, the IFA should think twice before asking centres like Kalyani to host a match when major clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are playing.
This just cannot be the way to take the game to the grassroots.