KOCHI: The Indian blind football team secured the fifth place by beating Malaysia 2-0 at the eight-nation IBSA Asian Championships held at Pattaya, Thailand recently. This is the first time that India, who was ranked 30, ended up this high at the Asian level. Apart from that, the #BlueDolphins team (named after the river dolphins in the Ganga which are blind and endangered) secured a draw against the 16th-ranked South Korean team and finished third in Group A.
The young Indian side, which has an average age of 21, played well against the eventual Asian champions China (World No 3) and Thailand (World No 15). In the Malaysia match, Shivam Singh Negi scored twice for the Indian team in the second half and the game was watched by the Indian Consul General, embassy officials and the Indian community.
The team, trained at the Blind Football Academy in Kochi run by the Indian Blind Football Federation (IBFF) has accomplished this feat without government support or training facilities. The team took part in the tournament with the help of individual donations and CSR funds. The Indian players who excelled included goalkeeper Sujith P S, Falhan C S, Suvinder Singh, Pankaj Rana and Klingson Marak.
The 12-member team, comprising players from Uttarakhand, Delhi, Kerala, West Bengal and Meghalaya, were trained by goal guide Naresh Singh Nayal from Dehradun and coached by Sunil J Mathew from Kochi. The training was done at the Jogo Grounds, Chilavanoor and overseen by IBSA referee coordinator and trainer Loo W K from Malaysia.
The IBFF aims to conduct coaching sessions and zonals across the country over the next few months before the Nationals in April 2020. The aim is to showcase the sporting talents of the visually challenged community and help them get recognition.