Seeking fresh challenges

Nethaji Sports Club which won the Senior Division League title for the first time.-S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

The biggest difference between Nethaji Sports Club and other sides in the CFA Senior Division this season was the partnership of the Ivorian strikers, Issouf and Dombia. They scored nine and seven goals respectively and finished first and second on the scoring charts.

On January 5, Dombia Mamadou announced with his left foot Nethaji Sports Club’s ambitions, letting fly a 40-yarder that beat the rival goalkeeper completely. This was an early-season game against title favourite Integral Coach Factory, a meeting between sides with perfect records till that point — ICF had two wins from two games, Nethaji three from three. Less than 10 minutes into the game Nethaji was 2-0 up.

Nethaji’s 3-1 win that day broke the hegemony of ICF and Indian Bank in the Chennai Football Association Senior Division League, even if it took the side a month longer and six games matches — it won all those games — to make it official.

The key to Nethaji’s title — the club’s first since its inception in 1946 — was coach D. Sekaran, an advocate of all-out attacking football, who took charge of the team at the beginning of the season. He says, “When we attack, I want everyone to join in, especially my wing-backs and wide midfielders.”

Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the penultimate match of the season, when Nethaji took on Madras Sporting Union. Nethaji sealed the title by winning 5-2 after being 2-0 down at one stage. Nethaji went into the lead following a goal by left-back Kanagaraj, who burst into the box to drive home a cross from midfielder Naresh.

In that game, Nethaji also showed a willingness to try something outside the 4-4-2 template all other Senior Division teams adhere stodgily to. This, in the end, turned the contest. Sekaran says, “After they (MSU) scored the second goal, I told my boys to play 4-3-3, with (right-sided midfielder) Kowsigan joining Dombia and Raju up front.”

The biggest difference between Nethaji and other sides this season, however, was the strike partnership of Ivorians, Issouf and Dombia, who have scored nine and seven goals respectively, and finished first and second on the scoring charts.

“They are fantastic players,” says Sekaran of the Ivorians. “They are very hard-working; they go up and down the pitch all day, and have gelled very well with the local players in our team.” But Sekaran is realistic about Nethaji’s immediate challenge, participation in the I-League Second Division.

“It will be totally different from a local league, where you find a few sub-standard players in the opposition. There (I-League), every one is a professional. So we have some areas to strengthen, for which we need to bring in new players. I’m particularly looking for a playmaker, someone who can change the tempo of the game according to the situation and opposition.”

* * * Saina in demand

K. MURALI KUMAR

Sponsors now come calling on Saina Nehwal (in pic). Ever since the 19-year-old badminton player made waves by winning the World Junior title in Pune in September 2008 and climbed to No. 10 in the senior world rankings, Saina has become the toast of the nation. And Corporate India was quick to notice her growing stature.

Herbalife India, the makers of health and nutrition products at the global level, has now named Saina as its Brand Ambassador. The company signed up the star at a gala media meet in Bangalore recently.

During the event, Saina looked back at her journey with nostalgia. “I remember the days I played junior events in Bangalore, and now, here I am standing before you as Brand Ambassador for Herbalife. It has been a dramatic journey for me,” she said.

Saina is quite confident of attaining her goals (reaching top five by the end of the year). There is a huge expectation riding on Saina, like was in the case of Sania Mirza (also from Hyderabad) earlier. “It is not new to me and I hope to do well in the World Championship (seniors) which will be played in Hyderabad (in April) and I am hoping for a good support from my fans,” said Saina.

The Country Head of Herbalife India, Ajay Khanna, said: “It is a privilege to have a young sports icon like Saina Nehwal as our Brand Ambassador and she will enhance our brand value and play a key role in the promotion of Herbalife across the country.”

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PTI

'A great ride'

India’s hero Abhinav Bindra had the time of his life at Aero India 2009 show in Bangalore recently. The Olympic gold medal winner, a special invitee of Lockheed Martin, flew a sortie with Paul Randall, a fighter pilot with 4,200 hours of flying experience, on the fourth generation combat aircraft F16 N. Bindra climbed into the cockpit of the latest US-made fighter jet, showing the same calm and cool composure that he displays at the shooting range and made a thumbs up sign before zooming into the blue skies for what he called “his greatest ride”.

After a 45-minute ‘exhilarating’ flight that saw Randall-Bindra duo doing a few rolls and turns, the aircraft made perfect landing at the Yelahanka Air Base, the venue of the show. “Wow, what an experience and this is the most exciting thing I have done in my life after winning the Olympic gold,” said the champion shooter. “For a brief while, I had the controls in the cockpit and Randall guided me so well and I was not nervous at all,” he added. Bindra later revealed that he underwent a medical test and trained on a simulator before embarking on flight.

Bindra was later presented a memento by Orville Prince, Vice-President (Business Development) of Lockheed Martin. “The F16 and Bindra are similarly matched, both are known for their unsurpassed performance and accuracy,” said Prince.

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The triumphant Jolly Rovers team.-R. RAGU

Jolly Rovers rides high

Of the 12 teams in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Senior Division League, Jolly Rovers (sponsored by Chemplast) has, arguably, the best composition of batsmen and bowlers. The team has a specialist player for each position. If one fails, the other, often, succeeds. The team spirit and the environment in the dressing room have been pleasant.

“We support each other quite well. Most importantly, anybody who does well is encouraged,” said Rovers’ promising fast bowler R. Suthesh. The team’s hat-trick of victories in the recently concluded V. A. Parthasarathy Memorial limited overs cricket tournament amply reflected its dominance. Though Rovers was hampered by the absence of M. Vijay, S. Badrinath and Dinesh Karthick (L. Balaji didn’t participate in the tournament) till the final, it didn’t panic. Experimenting with its bench strength, Rovers emerged victorious in the tournament.

“Despite Dinesh Karthick, S. Badrinath and M. Vijay not being with us for the major part of the tournament, we did exceedingly well,” said Ram Mohan Rao, former Ranji cricketer and manager of Rovers. Rao is worried that Rovers’ performance in the TNCA Senior Division League will be affected with the absence of three of its key players — Karthick, M. Vijay and L. Balaji — who are part of the Indian team to tour New Zealand. “We are currently placed third in the league championship. With these three players not being there, it will affect us. But I am sure that the youngsters will rise to the occasion.”

Pitted against Aruna CC and UFCC (T. Nagar) in its group (12 teams were divided into four groups) in the V. A. Parthasarathy tournament, Rovers defeated UFCC but lost to Aruna narrowly. Being second in its group, behind Aruna, Rovers had tough matches in the knockout stage, but it pulled through. In the quarterfinals, Rovers defeated Grand Slam and in the semifinals, it overcame Vijay CC-India Cements.

In the final, held under floodlights, Rovers raced to a five-wicket victory over Alwarpet (sponsored by Chemplast).

By Karthik Krishnaswamy, K. Keerthivasan & Kalyan Ashok