MUMBAI: Two aspects have weighed in heavily in the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai - crowds and rain. While captain Sunil Chhetri’s heartfelt plea filled the Mumbai Football Arena beyond capacity through the week (attendance of more than 8000), Mumbai’s famous monsoons arrived in time to greet them all. It is likely to be more of the same when India play Kenya in the final of the four-nation tournament on Sunday evening.
The MET department had predicted heavy rainfall in Mumbai over the weekend and at least Saturday lived up to the promise. “Yes, all those who can swim are in,” joked India coach Stephen Constantine, expecting a downpour on India’s victory parade, of the team composition. The hosts qualified for the final by winning their first two matches – 5-0 against the Chinese Taipei and 3-0 against Kenya — but suffered an unexpected 1-2 defeat against a young New Zealand side. Constantine had made seven changes to the side for that last group game, and said he wasn’t overly bothered with the loss. The four-nation event has mainly been organised to kickoff preparations for 2019 Asian Cup. India will be part of the elite tournament – an equivalent of the European Championships — for the first time since 2011.
“It was important for us to give other players the opportunity to play to show if they can help,” said Constantine. “When you make seven changes, you aren’t going to play in the same cohesive way that we did in the other games. We will be at full strength. We will have our two central defenders who have been outstanding for us, Sandesh (Jhingan) and Anas (Edathodika).”
While Constantine has constantly emphasised on building the bench strength – and he has worked towards it, handing India debuts to more than 30 players during his stint – the Intercontinental Cup has been more about the established order of Indian football. Captain Sunil Chhetri celebrated his 100th match in the India shirt against Kenya, and capped the momentous day with a brace. The little big man is the one still scoring and pulling the strings for India and has once again been a cut above the rest in the entire tournament.
Though 8,890 attended that match, and cheered on India’s milestone man, heavy rains had made conditions “unplayable”. Having dodged that landmine, without injuries, the hosts will hope to close out the tournament successfully on Sunday.