Guwahati, Feb. 15: It took the Beautiful Game to give the 33rd National Games its first big-ticket event.
A thriller of a football match between neighbours ended perfectly for the host state and the nearly 20,000 spectators who thronged Nehru Stadium today. Assam, the underdog, defeated Bengal 3-0 in the first of the semifinals to send the home crowd into raptures.
“This is incredible. It is as if a One Day International is being played here. This is a good advertisement not only for domestic football but also for the National Games,” the Assam Football Association’s vice-president, J.K. Bora, said of the turnout.
Indeed, the queues to get inside the stadium and the traffic snarl outside the stadium were reminiscent of one-day cricket.
“We were expecting a large crowd but not 20,000 people for a football match. The half-holiday declared by the government last night and the pleasant weather contributed to the turnout. Since Friday is also a holiday, we have to be prepared for a huge crowd again,” Bora said.
Assam will be playing the final against the winner of the second semifinal on Saturday.
As the clouds that ruined several events yesterday gave way to a sunny day this morning, other National Games venues, too, witnessed a rush of spectators. All the venues at the main stadium in Sarusajai were packed to capacity.
The Dr Zakir Hussain Aquatics Complex was again one of top draws. Many had to return disappointed because the complex was packed by the time they reached.
The Karmabir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi Indoor Hall, where the basketball event was held this afternoon, attracted people of all age groups. “Normally, I only watch cricket matches but today I am here to feel the enthusiasm that has been generated by the Games,” said Plaban Goswami, a student of Gauhati University.
The eateries at the stadiums did brisk business.
“The number of spectators was easily the highest today,” said D. Bhattacharjee, manager of a food stall set up by Landmark Hotel at the main stadium.
Apart from the large turnouts at all venues, the other pleasant development of the day was the end of the controversy surrounding the winner of the 20-km walk in the men’s category. Oinam Sushil Kumar Singh of Assam was awarded the gold after the organising committee adjudged that Somendro Singh of Services, who had been declared the winner yesterday, did not complete the last lap.
A three-member team reviewed a taped version of the live telecast of the event by Doordarshan on the basis of a complaint by Assam.
Games records were created in the men’s triple jump, the 5,000 metres race and the marathon. Swimmers Rehan Poncha of Karnataka and Richa Mishra of Delhi led the list of winners with eight gold medals each. Sports powerhouse Manipur remained unchallenged in the overall medal stakes.