It was a dream Mumbai had always been wanting to turn into a reality. And that dream became real 61 years later in a friendly match that was played between India and Puerto Rico. India in a performance that made the atmosphere even more electric beat Puerto Rico 4 -1 gaining in the International ranking table.
“Hard to describe (the atmosphere). It’s one of the most impressive moments in the Puerto Rican national team’s history. Coming off the pitch, the respect and appreciation the crowd showed was something we haven’t seen before and it’s something that the guys are still talking about in the locker room,” said Puerto Rico Federation’s general secretary Ignacio Rodriguez after the match.
Played at the Mumbai Football Arena the match was a special moment for Mumbai as they had craved for the moment since February 1955, to be precise — when India played their last international game in the financial capital of the country.
The excitement at the venue was palpable. All roads led to the stadium.
By the time fireworks lit up the stadium, the famous Nashik Dhol was played and the national anthems were sung. The crowds especially the younger generation had never seen anything like this before. By the eight minute Emmanuel Sanchez gave the visitors a lead.
Puerto Rico showed aggression but this was short lived. Within seconds, they received a throw-in and a huge roar encapsulated the stadium. This was when the team got its act right and till the end the home team showed its true potential.
Vande Mataram was sung in unison with synchronised applause. Inspirational patriotic songs appeared like becoming the theme of the day, as Chale Chalo from Lagaan was sung next.
Indian coach Stephen Constantine said, “The atmosphere from the Mumbai fans was excellent. Although it was 6,000-7,000, it felt like 20,000 at times.”
Puerto Rico’s stand-in coach David Guillemat described the atmosphere as “unbelievable”.
There were no cheerleaders but each goal was clapped and cheered for by the crowd.
What makes this win special is the fact that Puerto Rico were ranked 38 places above them.
India, who led 3-1 at the half-way stage, scored their goals through Narayan Das (18th minute), Chhetri (26th), Jeje Lalpekhlua (34th) and Jackichand Singh (58th).
Experts call it a great leadership of Sunil Chhetri that did the magic.
Chhetri paved the way for two goals and also struck once to emerge as the star player for the home country.
This was India’s fourth straight victory after the 1-2 loss to Turkmenistan in the World Cup qualifier in Kochi in March early this year. They got past Laos 6-1 and 1-0 in the Asia Cup qualifiers in June and then drubbed Bhutan last month recently.
India have rarely beaten a higher ranking team in the past. They beat Afghanistan in the SAFF Cup in Kochi in January.
India was ranked 152 as compared to rivals’ 114.
Zambia was the last non-Asian country to visit India, back in 2011, in a match which India lost 5-0.
India last played a higher-ranked team in October 2014, losing against 102-ranked Palestine 3-2.
Puerto Rico have lost three of their last five matches, including home and away defeats against traditional rivals Dominican Republic.
On the other hand Stephen Constantine’s Blue Tigers purple patch continued by now registering nine wins in their last eleven matches.
But sad news comes with reports out that Sephen Constantine might be replaced.
Reports say he might not get a contract extension.
Constantine’s contract runs out in February, a month before the Asian Cup qualifiers begin.
Newspaper reports say some members of the AIFF technical committee are bemused by Constantine’s constant chopping and changing of the side and deem it to be unnecessary.
India experts say has improved immensely after Constantine managed to select a much more settled starting eleven.
There is talk of how this revamp might effect prospects if India ahea of the 2019 Asia Cup.
The national football body is reportedly looking at former Bengaluru FC coach, Ashley Westwood to take over from Constantine.
While India has always been a great one for International football and people religiously following the game with Comeon India Let’s Football being the slogan, this game of India Puerto Rico was definitely a whiff of fresh air.