India qualify for final round
EB fight for pride
Coach Arun Lal branches out

New Delhi, Feb. 20 
History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Twelve years ago, India qualified for the Thomas Cup final round, defeating Thailand 3-2 at the Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium. Today, against the same opponents, the result read 3-1.

In 1988, Prakash Padukone was India�s hero, winning his singles tie and partnering Uday Pawar to wrap up the second doubles in a nail-biting finish.

Today Pullela Gopichand was India�s star. He won the opening singles tie against Boonsak Polsana 6-15, 15-7, 15-7. In the vital doubles, he combined with Vincent Lobo to down world�s No. 30 Kitipon Kitikul and Khunakom Sudhisodhi 15-11, 2-15, 15-12 in 69 minutes.

Gopichand said this was his finest display for India. His world rankings has improved from 32 to 25. Coach Vimal Kumar praised him for remaining unbeaten in both singles and doubles throughout the week, saying: �Gopichand showed improved consistency and concentration.�

In the first game, Gopichand trailed 5-11 and lost at 6-15. In the second, he trailed 4-6 but then he rallied to lead 13-6 before winning at 15-7. He led throughout in the third. Another hero for India was Abhin Shyam Gupta, who also remained unbeaten in the tournament. His toss and drop game wore out Anupap Thiraratsakakul in a 90-minute match. Coach Pawar said: �Abhin saps the energy and concentration of his opponents by his defensive game.�

In doubles, India�s Jaseel P. Ismail and Markose Bristow were outclassed by Thailand�s Pramote Teerawiwata (a member of Thailand�s 1988 team) and Tesana Panvisvas, ranked 11th in the world, 5-15, 7-15.

Gopichand�s lethal smashes were telling in the vital second doubles match. He and Vincent Lobo beat Kitipon Kitikul and Khunakom Sudhisodhi 15-11, 2-15, 15-12

In the Thomas Cup qualifier final, China cruised to a 3-0 win over Korea. In the Uber Cup qualifying final, Korea had better luck ousting Japan 3-2. Indonesia beat Hong Kong 3-1 to clinch the third qualifying spot.


Thomas Cup (qualifiers):Third-place: India bt. Thailand 3-1 (Gopichand bt. Boonsak Polsana 6-15, 15-7, 15-7, Jaseel P. Ismail and Markose Bristow lost to Pramote Teerawaiwata and Tesana Panvisvas 5-15, 7-15; Abhin Shyam Gupta bt. Anupap Thiraratsarakul 15-7, 12-15, 15-11; P. Gopichand and Vincent Lobo bt. Khunakorn Sudhisodhi 15-11, 2-15, 15-12.) Final: China bt. S.Korea 3-0.

Uber Cup (qualifiers): Final: South Korea bt. Japan 3-2. Third place qualifier: Indonesia bt. Hong Kong 3-1.    

Calcutta, Feb. 20 
There is a basket of pride waiting for East Bengal, and Churchill Brothers stand guard. Tomorrow, at the Salt Lake Stadium, the local giants, looking Liliputian in the National League, will have to give their best and a little more to get a little back.

Standing way down at ninth postion (17 points from 15 matches), East Bengal can only pray that current League leaders Churchill (31 points from 15 outings) fail to strike form. And pray that coach Danny McLennan�s boys finally come down from their perch.

Ironically, East Bengal�s arch rivals Mohun Bagan too would be praying for East Bengal�s good showing.

A victory for East Bengal means Mohun Bagan can catch up with the leaders, and then push upwards from there versus a lowly Dempo the day after.

Coach Subhas Bhowmick presents a brave front, still. �I have nothing to lose now,� he says sort of nonchalantly, �the onus is on them now, they have a reputation to protect.� The fear is in and out of this new Brazilian upfront, Ossius Luis Ferreira.

Ferreira�s hattrick versus SBT recently might have rekindled hopes, but take note that he has a feeble right foot, though his left mostly makes up for that. But a slow change of foot at the goalmouth tomorrow will mean a quick, decisive clearance by a brilliantly in-form Churchill deep defender Osumanu Husseini.

In trying to home in a right-footer in the last match, Ferreira pulled a muscle and that has yet to be okay, the coach says. �Even Tushar Rakshit is not feeling 100 per cent�

In Churchill defender Husseini, paradoxically, could lie East Bengal�s advantage. Husseini gets involved, head and limb, with the job and a quick retrieval may be a slow affair. If a Saroj Das or a Ferreira or a Seikh Sanjib can make hay of that slice of sunlight...

The flip side is in the Churchill attack line itself. Francis Silveira is still the top scorer in the league. Then there is this Uzbek striker Andriy Malchevsky, a train of reputation in tow (the other Uzbek, midfielder Myoka Shevchenko has yet to impress). Rocky Barreto slips in initiatives aplenty, and even Danzie Ferraro overlaps from the rear. It can get all very confusing if you fail to hold on tight to the seat rails.

That is exactly what East Bengal must do to retain composure. There are two steady pairs of legs in the rear � Jackson Egygopong and Falguni Dutta, and both can overlap when needed. The final line, in goalkeeper Prasanta Dora, also is reasonably well endowed.

Finally, of course, it depends on the players. �You cannot do anything if chances are not converted,� says Bhowmick. His �bad phase� seems to stretch till infinity and his �lot of injuries� can run parallel. �Why take just SBT? We played very well against FC Kochin, and against Salgaocar and Mahindras. It�s the chance factor.�

And, while not demeaning the strengh of Churchill (�they are a good side�), Bhowmick still maintains �East Bengal is... There is still something to the jersey.�

One will have a feel of that fibre tomorrow.

FC Kochin take on ITI

In Thrissur, the psychological advantage of having beaten FC Kochin 2-1 in the first phase should weigh heavily in favour of ITI when the two meet tomorrow.

Kochin will, however, be more worried that I M Vijayan will be out with two yellow cards. Tejinder Kumar too is out with injury    

Calcutta, Feb. 20 
The Arun Lal Cricket Academy, under the aegis of East Calcutta District Sports Federation, was inaugurated by Sourav Ganguly at Subhas Sarovar today. State sports minister Subhas Chakraborty was also present.

Lal is already at the helm of the Bournvita Cricket Academy in the Maidan.

The new academy will accommodate over 1,000 trainees in three different age-groups. The trainees will have access to a full-size ground, a swimming pool and a gymnasium.

Besides Lal, Gautam Shome, Pranab Nandy, Gopal Bose, Syed Saba Karim, Moloy Banerjee and T.J. Banerjee will be available as coaches.    


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