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Friday, September 04, 2009

A Star is Born 

For a nation ranked about No. 150 ( FIFA rankings) to rejoice about exploits, real or imagined, on a football field might be construed as heady optimism by some and blind faith clamouring for any form of sporting success by others. This light-headed joy came largely due to custodian Subrata Pak held up as the public face of India’s victory, and who now finds himself the subject of a respectable fan following- many of whom sat wonderstruck as this youngster stared down his opponents, indulged in various displays of gamesmanships and emerged triumphant when it mattered.

From a deserved bad-boy image which reached a crescendo around his part in the sad demise of Dempo striker Cristiano Junior in 2004, Pal has now come full circle. His cheerful comportment while causing palpitations in others, atleast serves to keep him calm and composed in trying situations like the penalty shootout with Syria in the recent Nehrup Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium, Delhi. India reached the final of the four-member tournament after having conceded a goal in every match played whereas Syria’s Mosab Balhous had kept a clean sheet in all his matches for Syria.

A 120th equalizer had taken matters to the shootout after a Renedy Singh setpiece had given India the lead in extra time. And then it began. The strutting Pal kept a beatific smile as his waited till given marching orders from the ref. to retreat to the goal-line, did his Big Bird flapping routine during all penalties, constantly chatted with the Indian penalty-takers and made as much a nuisance of himself within the rules and came good with three saves out of the seven he faced.

After the last penalty had been squandered ( a wise lady sports anchor called it a penalty corner !) by Al Altounim, Pal is worth watching. He starts off with clenched fist, breaks into a jog away from goal, changes direction as he sees his elated team approaching, changes direction again and then of all the people he has at his preening disposal to pump flesh with, chooses to go to his opponent, the Syrian goalkeeper Mosab Balhous to exchange a quick high-five and a hug before being mobbed by his teammates. Quite a sight to see that in international competition ! Perhaps the Indian soccer revival will come from a backfield move after all with this Pune FC player at its head.

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