The cup of cheer

A jubilant Indian football team with the Nehru Cup.-SANDEEP SAXENA

At a time when India was plummeting in the FIFA rankings, the Nehru Cup victory was a big boost to the country. By S. R. Suryanarayan.

The highs of Indian sport were manifest in various ways. If it was a tournament victory that boosted the image of football in the country, then entering the quarterfinals of the World Championship was a historic march forward for Indian squash. And what was really important was the positive developments these results brought about.

For Indian football it was time to rejoice once again. As host, the nation won the Nehru Cup for the first time in New Delhi. The euphoria following the triumph was reminiscent of the year 2002 when India won the LG Cup in Vietnam.

At a time when India was falling in the FIFA rankings, the Nehru Cup victory came as a tonic and the administrators began talking of improving the game in the country. In addition, the success was perceived as a positive sign that things had come under control under the new coach Bob Houghton, who came to India with the reputation of having given football some direction in China.

It is a different matter that the ONGC-sponsored Nehru Cup, which once was recognised as among the top five FIFA-ranked tournaments, was a far cry from the earlier editions. (The tournament came to a halt after the 1997 edition in Kochi and was revived in 2007.) While top teams from Europe and even Latin America patronised the Nehru Cup earlier, the tournament in 2007 hardly had a name to sell from amongst Syria, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Kyrgistan apart from the host. But then it was not AIFF’s mistake that the leading teams did not make it. Apparently, it had made efforts to make the field rich and glamorous.

For the Indian team, however, it was a perfect stage to enact its big act. In front of a goodly crowd, which made Houghton believe the football ambience in the capital was very positive, India edged out Syria for the title. Only a few days earlier, in the round robin, Syria had beaten India. Defeating a team that was ranked 40 places above it meant the victory was all the more sweet for India. N. P. Pradeep, the promising new talent from Kerala, was the toast of India’s triumph.

The euphoria was understandable. Suddenly it seemed as if players such as Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Pradeep, Gurmangi Singh, Surkumar Singh and N. S. Manju had given Indian football a fresh hope, ushered in a new dawn. But a few months later, India was in for a big disappointment as Lebanon denied it an entry into the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers with a 6-3 aggregate goal margin (in two legs). However, ranked 143 in the FIFA’s December ratings, India had come some way up from the 160s.

Dola Banerjee made history by becoming the first Indian to win an archery gold medal at the World Cup final held in Dubai in November. Just one point separated India’s champion archer from her Korean rival Eun Young Choi (110-109) but that was good enough for Dola, who had earlier won gold at the World Cup tour event in Dover (England).

A product of the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur, Dola now has a sponsor in Samsung. This has taken a huge load off her mind. Having missed a medal at the Athens Olympics, Dola now aims for nothing short of gold at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Anup Sridhar... a dream run at the World Championship in Kuala Lumpur.-K. MURALI KUMAR

For a sport that is beginning to gain visibility in the country, squash’s latest success story came at the World Men’s Team Championship in Chennai. Though India did not win the title, it made history by entering the last-eight stage. The Indian team, comprising Saurav Ghosal, Ritwik Bhattacharya, Siddarth Suchde and Gaurav Nandrajog, confounded the followers of the sport by defeating higher-ranked Wales in the pre-quarterfinals.

India finished eighth in the championship, which was creditable. What is more, the country finished one rung above Pakistan, which was once world No. 1 with the legendary Khans, Jehangir and Jansher, in its ranks.

Former National champion Anup Sridhar brought some cheer to the badminton fans in the country.

Dola Banerjee… the first Indian to win an archery gold medal at the World Cup.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

In the early phase of the World Championship in Kuala Lumpur in August, Anup captured the imagination of badminton lovers with a superb display that silenced some of the big guns of the game, notably the Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat. His dream run, however, ended with defeat to the eventual champion, Lin Dan, in the quarterfinals but not before he gave the World No. 1 from China the jitters. Anup’s effort helped him climb to No. 25 in the world rankings.

The winner of the National men’s singles titles in 2005 and 2006, Anup had a fairly good season in 2007. He was a semifinalist in the ABC Championship and the German Open, before his exploits in the World Championship. The champion product from the Tata Padukone Academy believes that this is “just a stepping stone to bigger challenges.”

Narain Karthikeyan with the trophy after winning his first A1 GP race at Zhuhai, China.-

Past mid-December, Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula One driver, won the A1GP race in Zhuhai, China. His victory was a historic moment in motor racing as Team India grabbed its first ever victory in the A1GP. Narain clocked 1:08:30.759 to finish 0.502 seconds ahead of Jonny Reid of New Zealand. India thus became the 14th nation to win a race in the A1GP.

Expectations of the nation are also running high on Karun Chandhok, who could well be India’s next F1 driver. He successfully tested for the Formula One team Red Bull.