Melbourne City players excited about their Kochi trip

India's first friendly international tournament is expected to bring in a number of spectators as well as give the country's football scene a much-needed boost.

It may not be a tough outing on paper, but Melbourne City FC is not taking things lightly.   -  Getty Images

The arrival of Melbourne City FC and Girona FC in Kochi to play the Toyota Yaris La Liga World pre-season tournament could be a much-needed boost to the Indian football scene. The two teams are a part of the City football group that owns English Premier League champion Manchester City.

Kerala Blasters will have the privilege of having been the Indian team to play in India’s first international pre-season friendly tournament. When the home team meets these sides at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, expect nothing short of a sellout, owing to the manic following the club enjoys.

Melbourne City FC players Eugene Galekovic and Dario Vidosic are excited about their trip to Kochi.

“We know they have a huge following. Every single game, they come out in huge numbers and are very loud and we’re really looking forward to playing there,” said Melbourne City midfielder Vidosic.

It may not be a tough outing on paper, but the Australian side is not taking things lightly. “It’s going to be a great challenge, we’re training very hard. We’re taking it very seriously to prepare ourselves for the coming season. I think it’ll be a blockbuster between the two teams and a footballing spectacle for the fans,”  he said.

In a nation that excels in a wide range of sports, football isn’t the most popular. Neither is cricket. Football and rugby take the top spots, followed by cricket.  But since the inception of the A-League - replacing the former National Soccer League (NSL) - in 2005, the consumption and support of football has improved.

“We get on an average about 12,000 spectators every game. It’s still a new league and the standards are improving every year. The supporters are growing as well. We’re catching the other sports slowly,” said Eugene Galekovic who has been playing in Australia since the NSL days.

Australia’s World Cup appearances have also helped football’s case in the country.

“The league and especially our participation in the World Cup inspires younger boys and girls to play the game and dream of playing for an A-league team and becoming a Socceroo,” said the 37-year-old shot-stopper.

The importance of I-League in India is dwindling with the Indian Super League’s (ISL) novel packaging of the sport increasing its viewership and support. And India finds itself in a similar position to Australian football during the initial years of the A-league. Galekovic believes Indian football can take away some lessons from the Australian example.

“I think India is on the right path. Like our number one sport is AFL, India’s is cricket and hopefully they can take the same path as Australia where football is growing and hopefully India can one day, make the world cup as well.”

The Toyota Yaris La Liga World will be held from July 24 to July 29.

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