By Kaustav Bera
India begin their campaign on Wednesday for the 15th edition of the prestigious Nehru Cup tournament. In their very first match they are up against the losing finalists of the past two editions, Syria. India will look to defend their crown, as they are the reigning champions.
Goal.com takes the occasion to bring to you some facts regarding the invitational tournament which has seen the biggest names of yore.
A is for Argentina – The 1984 Nehru Cup saw the Argentina team visit India to compete for the Nehru Cup. Coached by the legendary Carlos Billardo, the side featured stars aplenty with the star attraction being Jorge Burruchaga. It was Burruchaga, who under Billardo, scored the winning goal in the 1986 Fifa World Cup Final and also finished runners up in 1990.
B is for Bhaichung Bhutia – India's star striker's love affair with the Nehru Cup started from the 1995 Nehru Cup in Kolkata where he scored one goal. He then went on to score a total of 7 goals, participating in four editions of the tournament. His final bow in the 2009 edition also saw him being named Player of the tournament as India went on to lift the trophy.
C is for China – The Asian nation participated in 9 Nehru Cups starting from its inception in 1982 and were probably the most unluckiest team, as the finished losing finalists 4 times.
D is for Delhi – Since its re-incarnation the Nehru Cup's fixed permanent location has been India's capital in New Delhi, at the Ambedkar Stadium for the 2007 and 2009 editions and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium this year.
E is for Extra-time - The 2009 Nehru Cup final saw the game decided on penalties well after Extra time, where India managed to defend their crown by downing Syria 5-4 on spotkicks. Funnily it was a goal less draw after regulation time, but both teams had scored late into extra time, to set up the penalty shootout.
F is for 'Future' – The Nehru Cup's future was in doubt after the tournament was shelved after 1997, but it returned on the then national coach Bob Houghton's insistence in 2007. Since then India have claimed two Nehru Cups in 2007 and 2009.
G is for Goals – The 1986 Nehru Cup held in Thiruvananthapuram saw Indian football performance sink to an all time low. They drew 1 and lost 4 of their 5 matches, but worse than that, they failed to score a single goal in the entire tournament while conceding 14 goals, including a 6-0 drubbing by USSR and 5-0 thrashing by East Germany.
H is for Hungary - Hungary has won the Nehru Cup twice. First time in 1983 where they were represented by club side Haladas and then again in 1989 (this time by club side Videoton SC) when they ended USSR's run of four consecutive Nehru Cup triumphs.
I is for Iraq - The Asian nation had won the last two Nehru Cups before its long hiatus, in 1995 and 1997. In the 97 edition, they narrowly won the semi-final against India on penalties before going on to beat Uzbekistan 3-1 in the final.
J is for Robert Jovan - The star striker of Hungary held the joint record of most goals scored in a Nehru Cup with Vadim Yevtushenko (1986) as he smashed 6 goals in the 1989 edition, as Hungary emerged champions. His record stood till 1993 till it was emphatically smashed by DPR Korean Choi Yong-San who scored an amazing 11 goals leading the Asians to win the tournament.
K is for Kolkata and Kochi - Between them, they have held the Nehru Cup a combined 6 times, thrice in Kolkata in 1982, 1984 and 1995. Funnily Kochi always customarily held the Nehru Cup after Kolkata in 1983, 1985 and 1997 when the tournament went biannual.
L is for Laszlo Kiss – The Hungarian forward who played for the winning Hungary team in 1983, still holds the record for the fastest hat-trick (8 minutes) and most number of goals ( 3 goals ) scored while coming on as a substitute in a World Cup match. He accomplished this feat in the 1982 World Cup against San Marino.
M is for Manas Bhattacharya - In the very first Nehru Cup where Uruguyan star Enzo Francescoli rocked the proceedings in 1982, he was the standout performer for India as he notched up 3 goals in the competition and was joint top scorer too.
N is for North Korea– The North Korean team blitzed through the 1993 Nehru Cup winning it with ease, where their mercurial striker, Choi Yong-San set a blistering record of scoring an amazing 11 goals in the tournament, a record that is nowhere near being broken any time soon.
O is for ONGC – When Bob Houghton persuaded the AIFF to restart the Nehru Cup after a span of 10 years, it was the Indian corporate giants who stepped in with enthusiasm. They sponsored the two Nehru Cups in 2007 and 2009, in which India were victorious.
P is for Poland - You would think the star-studded Argentina side would stomp through the opposition in the 1984 Nehru Cup, but that was not to be, as a formidable Poland side comprising the likes of Buncol and Smolarek, who were part of the 1982 World Cup Poland side that finished third, won the tournament.
Q is for Quality – The Nehru Cups of old were reputed for bringing in the top sides in world football as a spectacle for football followers in India. Naturally India would most often be thrashed in the competitions and would be languishing at the bottom. When Bob Houghton convinced the AIFF to restart the tournament, he ensured that the teams in the competition were similarly ranked or lower. That dip in 'quality' might be a possible reason for India's maiden Nehru Cup triumph in 2007, followed by 2009.
R is for Renedy Singh – It was the mercurial Manipurian, who gave India the lead in the second half of extra time in the 2009 Nehru Cup final against Syria. Although India conceded late, they finally went on to win the tournament on penalties.
S is for Sunil Chhetri - The star Indian striker has already scored 5 goals in the last two editions of the Nehru Cup. This time in 2012, wearing the captain's armband, Chhetri will have to carry his team forward especially in Bhutia's absence.
T is for Trophy - The original trophy which was kept by the champion in between tournaments could not be recovered for last winners Iraq, after the tournament was restarted in 2007. Hence a new trophy had to be designed.
U is for USSR – The Soviet Union was a dominant force in the Nehru Cup back then. They first participated in 1985 and won the tournament at first go. They went on to win four successive tournaments and it was only the Hungary team in 1989 that could finally put an end to the Soviet juggernaut.
V is for Vadim Yevtushenko – The top scorer in the 1986 Nehru Cup, as Soviet Union captured their second title in a row, Vadim was a constant thorn in the opposition's side. He was also a part of the Dynamo Kyiv side who won the 1986 European Cup Winners Cup where he scored a goal in the final.
W is for Wim Koevermans – The new Dutch head coach of India will have his task cut out as this is his first involvement in a tournament in-charge of India. With stalwarts Bhutia, Mahesh Gawli and Climax Lawrence already calling it a day, Wim will have to rely on the upcoming stars of the side as he is expected to defend the Nehru Cup successfully.
X is for X-Factor– The X-Factor for India this time, is national coach's persistence at sticking with a new passing style of football rejecting the age old 'hoof the ball up' to the striker. Although the players might take time to adjust to this, this is indeed the way forward.
Y is for Yearly– Originally conceived as an annual tournament, it was in 1989 that the tournament went bi-annual. This was till 1997 when suddenly the AIFF stopped holding the tournament due to unforseen circumstances. Then it resumed after 10 years, and was held again bi-annually in 2007 and 2009 and then suddenly the 2011 edition was skipped and finally we have the return of the Nehru Cup in 2012.
Z is for Zzzzzzzzzzzz – With the tournament due to start in a few hours, and with teams like Cameroon participating, interest in a country dominated by cricket and to an extent European football is at an all time low. Ticket sales are way below expectations even though they have been made available online by the AIFF. Wake up and Cheer for Team Blue!!
What do YOU think? Will India successfully defend their Nehru Cup crown?
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