| Ashim: Sorely missed
Calcutta: The IFA Shield has earned a mouthful of rather dubious reputation from the final fracas last year, resulting in punitive measures slapped on by the AFC. In its 108th year it has not been able to attract any foreign team because of the AFC ban. And now the fixtures are changing with the late confirmation of Tata Football Academy.
The IFA Shield is the mess that it has been for the last decade, and that’s how it shall remain, it seems, as a new edition kicks off Thursday at two venues.
Just the other day IFA joint secretary Ranjit Gupta had said the meet will go on with only seven teams. With JCT refusing to play, TFA, who had agreed, were kept on hold because of logistical problems. That sorted out, the Jamshedpur team was given the green signal Tuesday. The team arrived in the city late Wednesday. The meet is back to two four-team pools. Thursday TFA take on Vasco Sports Club of Goa and Tollygunge Agragami meet Indian Bank.
This gap-in-the-National Football League meet does carry some of the inertia. It also sees teams a trifle shorn, because of the SAFF Cup and because of injuries. Vasco, for example, will be sans their top two players — Selwyn Fernandes and Jules Alberto — and as if that wasn’t enough, coach Derek Pereira said he found it unfair that they were being “asked to play TFA tomorrow, when our first match was initially scheduled for Saturday.” Moreover, Brazilian Marcos Perera has a “thigh strain”.
Pereira said he was also against playing on the Mohammedan Sporting ground, “because it is rather bumpy and a risky surface. Look, we are a relatively new team for the NFL, and we have a long way to go. I cannot risk injuring my players.” At the managers’ meeting in the evening, though, the venue remained unchanged.
Pereira said his was a young team and he will depend on Ruy Wanderley, who knows well where the goal lies, and Ramos, the two foreigners still around.
Regarding TFA, Pereira said: “I know they are a young side, yet must be treated with due respect.”
TFA arrived rather late in the day. Coach Ranjan Chowdhury said said his team is a strong one — “ten from the national under-17 side” that has given such a fine account of itself, and “including two of the Asian All-Star under-17 side”. That itself is impressive and Chowdhury promises “a good fight.”
Tollygunge Agragami, too, do not feel very comfortable as they take on Indian Bank Thursday. It is not the fact that they had lost their NFL encounter 0-1, but the fact that the team isn’t in good shape. It was bad as it is that their one-man strike force Ashim Biswas was whisked away to the Indian team for the SAFF Cup — “it’s quite like Mohun Bagan missing Jose Ramirez Barreto,” said club official Mantoo Ghosh, acting as coach.
“And goalkeeper Arindam Ghosh has the flu, Amitava Chanda picked up a minor leg injury at practice,” he said. “It does not augur well for the team, you see.”
And it does not help that two key Indian Bank players — Sri Lankans Kanadika Jayasuriya and Imran Mohammed — have both returned home to be in the national side for the SAFF Cup.
For Indian Bank coach V.P. Sathyan it is a matter of pride. He said: “I have played in Calcutta and I would not like to present the Calcuttans a team that could erase their memory of my matches here. It is a question of reputation.”
Nigerian Stanley is probably his better bet, though Shabir Pasha is a good try (“he will make the Indian team one day,” said Sathyan). The bankmen will play all out. “Sure Tollygunge do not have Ashim , but they do have Akeem Abolanle.” Sathyan added for now his aim is to make it to the semi-finals.