Walking tall, Moritz style

Mumbai City FC’s Andre Moritz, who scored the first hat-trick of the tournament, was ecstatic after his on-field heroics. And the team’s co-owner Ranbir Kapoor seemed even more happy after the 5-0 rout of FC Pune City (co-owned by Hrithik Roshan) in what was billed as the ‘Battle of Bollywood’.

Days after Mumbai City FC’s opening day loss to Atletico de Kolkata, co-owner Ranbir Kapoor had many reasons to smile, as his team put up a stellar performance to demolish FC Pune City. Mumbai’s 5-0 win is the biggest margin till the time of going to the press in the nascent Indian Super League, and its Brazilian-born attacking midfielder, Andre Moritz, scored the first hat-trick of the tournament.

The former Bolton Wanderers player was ecstatic after his on-field heroics and tweeted: “Today we had an incredible result and won the game by 5-0. I’ve scored a hat-trick! Words can’t describe how happy i am! God blessed me.”

Ranbir, though, seemed happier after winning the ‘Battle of Bollywood’. Pune’s co-owner Hrithik Roshan had tried drumming up support for his team ahead of the ‘Maha Derby’, tweeting and urging his supporters to cheer for Pune. However, his players failed to ignite at the D. Y. Patil Stadium and the Superhero could do little to rescue them.

Ground realities

The Pune team management, which had a pre-season training for its squad in Italy, is now facing problems in finding an appropriate training ground in the city. The players are believed to be not happy with the facilities in Pune and the team had to travel earlier than scheduled to Delhi for its first game against the Dynamos.

Similarly, Chennaiyin FC too reached Goa five days before its tournament opener to train at the Benaulim Panchayat Ground. The players have expressed their dissatisfaction over the ground conditions at the Sri Ramachandra Medical College in Chennai. One overseas player called it worse than a “pot-holed street”. The team, which has also practised at the Gateway International School, is yet to zero in on an official training ground in the city.

Words of encouragement

The ISL has created quite a buzz around the world, and the League promoters are using every opportunity to drive home the point. Swedish powerhouse Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s recorded ‘Best of Luck’ message is aired regularly by the official broadcaster, and now Arsene Wenger, who had passed upon the chance to sign the Swede for the Gunners years ago, has expressed his opinion on the ISL.

“If you look at the history of football, it has always become quicker and it looks like it grows everywhere. It’s like a virus that multiplies, so I don’t imagine that it won’t take off,” Wenger told The Arsenal Magazine. “It took a while in the United States, but it’s now very popular. It faces cricket in India, but there’s always room for a second sport. There’s only really badminton and cricket in India at the moment, but there’s room for another sport. I know that the people there watch the Premier League and I’m convinced that with such a huge population, it will take off.”

Hounding Pires

During a pre-match warm-up at Fatorda (Goa), the ground announcer screamed: “I’ll say Robert, you say Pires!”, and the crowd followed the instructions with vigour. FC Goa’s marquee player was obviously the star attraction. Therefore, much was expected of Pires when he took the field. The Chennaiyin FC team, however, would have none of it. Its players spent the entire 90 minutes roughing up the Frenchman, who was, at first, surprised by the tactics. As the match wore on, the tackles got more and more violent and Pires lost his cool on a few occasions. It was clear that Chennaiyin FC had marked Pires as its main target and the ploy worked. The midfielder was rendered ineffective, and FC Goa went down 1-2.

Asked if the strategy went against the spirit of fair play, the Chennaiyin FC coach, Marco Materazzi, retorted, “Why is it unfair? Pires has played with Arsenal in England, and in other countries in Europe. He should be used to physical football by now. We may be friends off the field, but on the pitch, I will do everything to stop him. He knows that. I met him just now after the match, we were back to being friends.”

An idea not so wise

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium wasn’t even half-full for Delhi Dynamos’ opening match, but still a crowd in the range of 25-30,000 was in attendance. It was good enough to create a boisterous atmosphere for the entire duration of the host’s goalless encounter against FC Pune City.

Interestingly, despite the presence of innumerable fans outside the stadium, very few could be seen in the stands half an hour before the 7 p.m. kick-off. The seemingly inevitable problems owing to traffic and confusion over directions had surfaced. It didn’t help that some spectators had to walk a little over two kilometres to reach the stadium entrance from the metro station.

The All India Football Federation President, Praful Patel, acknowledged the issues but believed that a greater turnout will be seen in the following games. While the problems could be teething, it was noteworthy that the AIFF has requested Star Sports to move the kick-off times for matches in “big cities” to 8 p.m.

Patel said that a late start will give fans more time to reach the stadium after work on weekdays. He added that this will boost attendances as well.

It’s a debatable idea since a late start means that spectators can’t leave the stadium until about 10 p.m. This may dissuade many as Delhi is a vast city and some travelled 25-30 kilometres for the match on October 14. Since the JLN Stadium does not offer parking facilities to spectators, a late start doesn’t seem a wise idea.

In fact, it should be noted that there’s little chance of the broadcasters readily agreeing to such a move. Hence, one hopes that the problems that came to light on October 14 were actually teething in nature.

Religious flavour

The giant Salt Lake Stadium has for long been the shrine where people throng to worship their sporting idols. It has been visited by legends such as Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Oliver Kahn, Diego Forlan and Lev Yashin among others, with a frenzied multitude touching almost 100,000 in attendance.

The prelude to the ISL, however, saw a different scene. Nita Ambani, the chairperson of IMG-Reliance and founding chairperson of Football Sports Development, which runs ISL, sought the invocation of Lord Ganesha a day before the formal inaugural ceremony.

She performed an impromptu puja for the success of the tournament.

Also present on the occasion were the co-owners of Aletico de Kolkata, former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and industrialist Utsav Parekh.

Ayon Sengupta, Priyansh, Ashwin Achal & Amitabha Das Sharma