KOCHI: Tuesday could be a red-letter day for Indian football as the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi hosts the opening match of the Toyota Yaris La Liga World pre-season football tournament between ISL side Kerala Blasters FC and A-League outfit Melbourne City FC. The competition, which also features Spanish top division side Girona FC, is billed as the first international pre-season event to be hosted by India — on the lines of the annual International Champions Cup which sees the participation of Europe’s top clubs and acts as a precursor to their domestic season.
While Premier League and La Liga clubs have paid regular visits to the Far East and South East Asia, India is yet to become a popular destination for the European giants — Blackburn Rovers played Pune FC in 2011 and FC Bayern Munich took on the Indian national team in Bhaichung Bhutia’s testimonial in 2012, are the exceptions. However, with the continued rise of the ISL coupled with India successfully hosting the U-17 World Cup, it looks like the country has become an exciting proposition for clubs and the La Liga World in Kochi could act as a catalyst for that change.
“We have watched a few ISL games and the quality of football is good. We have been training in Kochi for a week now. The weather is ideal, people are welcoming and the facilities are world class. So, this is an ideal set up for us to prepare and it will be two tough challenges against Blasters and Girona,” said Melbourne gaffer Warren Joyce.
Blasters head coach David James, meanwhile, said that the tournament will provide a unique opportunity for the Indian side. “You have got one of the best sides in the A-League and one of the better La Liga teams. Melbourne are in a very similar situation to us as it is their first pre-season game while Girona will be better prepared as the La Liga season is close,” said James.
Though friendly in nature, both coaches said their sides will be fighting for a win. “We do not know how good we are outside India and this will be a chance to find out. We have to be realistic but we have a hungry group of players who want to win. But it is important to do things the right way as well,” said the former English goalkeeper.