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ATK go on top

ATK go on top

ATK rode Pritam Kotal and Jayesh Rane’s strikes to beat FC Goa 2-0 in the ISL VI match at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.

But what grabbed the eyeballs was Mohun Bagan’s Srinjoy Bose and Debasish Dutta’s presence at the VVIP Lounge.

They were at the stadium to invite ATK principal owner Sanjiv Goenka and co-owner Utsav Parekh to watch Sunday’s I-League Derby against East Bengal. It remains to be whether Goenka and Parekh will be there for the Derby.

The win saw ATK climbing to the top of the table with 24 points from 13 matches.

Kotal drew first blood in the 47th minute, when he nodded in a Roy Krishna floater. Rane increased the margin in the 88th minute.

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Season for outdoor action

Season for outdoor action

New Town has got a new football ground and that too several feet above the ground. A 10,000sqft artificial turf has been inaugurated above Rosedale Plaza, the retail complex of Rosedale apartments, opposite St. Xavier’s University in Action Area 3.

“While New Town and Salt Lake have many fields, their quality is lacking. If it rains, the grounds get muddy and the ball doesn’t roll easily. So I thought of offering the township a ground with artificial turf,” says Vinamra Burman, director of Turf Air Plaza. Burman has completed his Masters in sports management and built some other elevated turfs in the city before launching his own. He also runs V/S Sports Arena in Minto Park, a ground for football and cricket which is not elevated.

Turf Air Plaza allows six-a-side football games but Burman says demand for football and cricket is in 60:40 ratio and he has plans to start cricket soon too. “Schools, colleges, corporate houses are all coming forward but instead of dividing the ground we shall take bookings of one of either at a time. Cricket can be played eight-a-side,” he says. Bookings can be done online at turfairplaza.com. Timings are from 6am to 10pm and rates are Rs 2,500 per hour during daytime and Rs 3,000 per hour with floodlights.

Cyclists paddle along the ridge between bheris
Cyclists paddle along the ridge between bherisTelegraph picture

They are also planning a football academy for women and children and have separate toilets and shower rooms for men and women. There is also a viewing gallery, outside of the netted ground, that overlooks the beautiful New Town skyline.

You can go on a guided cycle tour around the bheris before it gets hot. Himalayan Footprints, that runs the adventure sports section in Eco Park, provides a two-hour tour of the wetlands twice a day.

“The timings are flexible but 6am and 3pm would be most comfortable starting points,” says CEO Neil Law. He especially recommends the afternoon slot as one gets to enjoy the sunset amid the waters.

Law escorts cyclists and chooses one of two tracks based on their level of expertise on wheels. The novice trail is less rugged and has more halts. “We carry water and stop at picturesque spots or whenever the rider needs a break,” says Law.

The sights are breath-taking. One gets to sunset in the backdrop of fishing villages and the Sector V skyline. Since the trail itself is rugged and narrow, it is not possible to ride pillion. So everyone has to ride his own bike.

“Geared mountain bikes are used for the trail and interested riders need to make reservations a few days in advance. This way we can arrange customised bikes as per their height, weight and build,” says Law.

The start/end point can be either Eco Park’s Golf Arena or opposite Aquatica. Refreshments are served later. The ride costs Rs 2,000 per head.

Youths play soccer at Turf Street on AMP Vaisaakkhi mall
Youths play soccer at Turf Street on AMP Vaisaakkhi mallTelegraph picture

Turf Street, Baisakhi

The first terrace turf to open in Salt Lake was perhaps Turf Street, on the ninth floor of AMP Vaisaakkhi mall. There are two turfs here, of 4,500sqft each — for cricket and football. “In winter, people like playing cricket so we’re getting more bookings for the gentleman’s game at present,” says Aadarsh Choudhary, a partner.

The cricket ground allows the 8-a-side indoor cricket format while the football one permits four or five-a-side football.

The space is open round the clock though they usually get bookings till 1am. “Salt Lake has many parks but they come to us for the infrastructure. Most of our bookings are after dusk too, under floodlights.”

The rates are Rs 1,500 an hour for football and Rs 2,000 for cricket.

Turf Street, Sector V

Turf Street also has a branch in Sector V’s SLS Towers, with a breath-taking view of the bheris on two sides. “Everyone loves the outdoors in winter but we are up on the 17th floor where it can get extremely windy. So if temperatures dip too low, people cancel bookings,” a partner, Aadarsh Choudhary, said.

Being in the IT hub of the city, the turf is a favourite of office-goers but Choudhary says they get lots of youth too, coming with friends and cousins. “It’s a 60:40 ratio and in family get-togethers even elderly members participate sometimes,” he says.

The ground here is 4,500sqft and can be used to play cricket or football. Rates are Rs 1,800 an hour during the day and Rs 2,000 with floodlights. The ground is open round the clock.

A game of football on at V Play on a terrace near City Centre 2
A game of football on at V Play on a terrace near City Centre 2Telegraph picture

V Play, Chinar Park

How about a round of paintball or lawn bowling while the pleasant weather lasts? V Play, a 25,000sqft space on the seventh floor of Spencer’s near City Centre 2, has three grounds for football, paintball and either cricket or lawn bowling.

“During other seasons booking is usually low during the day but in winter we are chock-a-block round the clock. We are a 24-hour facility and people are exploiting every minute of it. Some games are culminating at 4am!” says director Prakash Nahata.

Corporate houses are bringing hundreds of employees over for sports days and clubs from as far-off as Barasat and Madhyamgram are saving up for a sports day-cum-picnic in the clouds.

Cricket here is played eight-a-side, football five. The rates are Rs 1,500 for any ground during the day and Rs 2,000 with floodlights. While all sports equipment is on the house, paintball players have to pay Rs 2 per ball of paint. This is a game where players divide into two and shoot one another with soft balls of paint. They are given protective gear and masks and the balls don’t hurt much.

 

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Bagan back with Gonzalez arm in sling

Bagan back with Gonzalez arm in sling

Mohun Bagan central midfielder Fran Gonzalez’s left-arm has been put on a sling. The Spaniard injured his shoulder after a collision with Real Kashmir FC midfielder Farhan Ganie during Mohun Bagan’s 2-0 victory in the I-League match in Srinagar on Sunday.

According to a team source, there is pain but Gonzalez should be fit for Thursday’s match against Indian Arrows. “The sling is just a precaution so that his shoulder gets enough rest. He would play on Thursday,” the source said.

However, with the I-League Derby slated for January 19, it remains to be seen if coach Kibu Vicuna takes the risk of playing Gonzalez.

At the post-match media conference, Vicuna, when asked about Gonzalez’s injury, had said: “Yes, he got a knock. But he finished the game and I think it’s not serious.”

At the Sheikh Ul-Alam International Airport in Srinagar, the Spaniard was chatting with his compatriots — Joseba Beitia and Fran Morante — and did not look bothered by the sling. “I am fine,” he said.

And the moment the 6E 576 from Srinagar touched down at Lucknow’s Chaudhury Charan Singh International Airport, the entire Bagan squad heaved a sigh of relief. After all they got connected back to the world again.

Ever since they landed in Srinagar on Thursday, the Bagan contingent was cut off from the ‘real world’.

Gonzalez seemed so excited that he removed the sling and was furiously typing on his mobile. “They look so happy now,” one official said.

In Srinagar, when someone said there is an internet clampdown in Lucknow as well, some of the Indian players looked dismayed. But soon, they realized it was a prank.

While in Lucknow the Bagan players went unnoticed, at the Calcutta Airport requests for selfies came thick and fast. Beitia, Morante, Gonzalez, Vicuna — all happily obliged.

Bagan begin their preparation for the Arrows match on Tuesday afternoon at the Salt Lake Stadium practice ground.

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In Kashmir’s den, a Bagan masterclass

In Kashmir’s den, a Bagan masterclass

There is this billboard in one corner of the Tourist Recreation Centre Ground in Srinagar. Real Kashmir FC’s Scottish coach David Robertson looks at you. And below it’s written, “In our den, we decide your moves.”

Well, on Sunday, from 11.30am till the final whistle it was Mohun Bagan who decided Real Kashmir’s moves.

Take a bow Bagan. You gave a display of guts and gumption against a team which is always a difficult proposition in its own den.

Bagan’s 2-0 victory over Real Kashmir would remain as one of their memorable away performances in the I-League. May be the 1-1 draw against Bengaluru FC on the last day of May 2015 would come first. After all that gave their only I-League title till date. But this match would be a close second.

More than 11,500 spectators turned up at the ground to watch the match and they enjoyed every bit of it. The first goal came in the 71st minute when Joseba Beitia, clearly the standout performer of the day, slammed home from inside the box.

The second came three minutes later. This time substitute Britto PM’s low cross was converted smartly by Nongdamba Naorem. “Five minutes of madness cost us the match,” rued RKFC coach David Robertson.

Very few at the ground would agree with Robertson. For, throughout the match it was Bagan who dictated terms. They are now on top of the I-league table with 10 points from five matches and it was their third win on the trot.

In the build-up to the game, Bagan were very jittery. The bone-chilling cold, the artificial turf, practice timings and zero net connectivity were irritating them. Real Kashmir had a good chance of recording their second home win in as many matches. But when the day arrived, Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna and his brave men sent out a loud message. “Ignore us at your own peril.”

This victory will definitely shape Bagan’s I-League campaign this season. Everyone played his role to perfection. Ashutosh Mehta on the right, Dhanachandra Singh on the left, central defenders Fran Morantes and Daniel Cyrus, young Sheikh Sahil in the midfield and even Baba Diawara upfront.

The diminutive Shankar Roy at the goal was courageous when it came to dealing with the aerial crosses sent in by Real Kashmir. In fact, minutes before the goal, Shankar leapt high on his left to punch away a Mason Robertson header which had goal written on it.

But the real star was Beitia. He had a problem with his new pair of boots but those things didn’t deter him. Masterminding every move, Beitia made life difficult for Real Kashmir.

And when Real Kashmir went all out for a goal in the latter stages of the match, Diawara tracked back to help the defence. “Given the fact that it was his first match and coming from an injury lay-off, Baba’s performance was very good,” was how Vicuna rated the Senegalese frontliner’s first day first show.

Diawara though could have scored in the very first minute when he headed straight to Real Kashmir goalkeeper Purba Tempa Lachenpa from inside the six-yard box. He needs more time but once he settles down, Bagan will have an ace up their sleeve. There is no doubt about that. Such was Bagan’s domination in the first 45 minutes that a 3-0 scoreline before the change ends would not have looked unreal.

Real Kashmir upped the ante after the change of ends and Danish Farooq found Bazie Armand inside the box who shot it over.

Now about the goals.

A long throw-in from Dhanachandra Singh was given a touch by Cyrus and Beitia volleyed it home. Three minutes later it was Naorem’s turn. The midfielder was often chided by Vicuna for being too self-centred but on Sunday he made his coach happy. Britto’s low cross from the right was met with a first-time volley by Naorem.

“A very satisfying performance in trying conditions,” said Spaniard Kibu, who could not stop smiling at the post-match media conference. “We will sleep well tonight,” he added.

True. They deserve a good sleep after such a wonderful performance.

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Churchill stunned by Arrows

Indian Arrows came from behind to defeat Churchill Brothers FC 2-1 at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao in what has been the first upset of the I-League.

East Bengal, thus, end the year at the top of the league table with eight points from four matches.

The substitutes of the Arrows proved to be the game-changers in the team’s first victory in four matches, while for Churchill Brothers, this was their first defeat in three games. Givson Singh of Arrows was adjudged the Man of the Match.

The first attempt came within five minutes of kick-off. Arrows captain Vikram Partap Singh made a run down the left flank, but the cross from him went straight to the Churchill Brothers ’keeper.

Churchill, though, didn’t have to be on the back foot for long as they were rewarded for their repeated attempts. Minutes before the half-time, a beautiful set-up by Israil Gurung found an unmarked Abu Bakr who headed in.

Arrows equalised in the 78th minute when a cross from Aman Chetri was smashed into the back of the net by Givson.

It looked as if the match would end in a draw, but a misunderstanding at the back between Junior Primus and James Kithan gave Arrows the winner, as substitute Suranjit Singh capitalised on the offer and scored for the visitors in the 90th minute.

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Leicester back to winning ways

Leicester City shook off chastening back-to-back defeats with a 2-1 victory at West Ham United to renew their distant chase of Premier League leaders Liverpool on Saturday.

Manager Brendan Rodgers made nine changes from the side that lost 0-4 at home to Liverpool less than 48 hours earlier, but Leicester still had too much for a poor West Ham team with Kelechi Iheanacho and Demarai Gray on target.

While Leicester moved four points clear of Manchester City, who they lost to 3-1 last weekend, and reduced Liverpool’s lead to 10 points, West Ham, without a home win since September, remain in 17th spot, one point above the bottom three.

In Norwich, Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane struck a late penalty to salvage a 2-2 draw to bottom side Norwich City in an entertaining clash. Kane was brought down in the area and stepped up to secure a point after Serge Aurier’s own goal gave Norwich the lead for the second time.

A first-half strike by Norwich’s Mario Vrancic had earlier been cancelled out by Christian Eriksen’s free kick.

The result leaves Spurs in fifth place with 30 points from 20 games, while Norwich stay at the foot of the table with 13.

Carlo Ancelotti’s flying start as Everton manager continued as his side won 2-1 at Newcastle United and Watford are also thriving under new boss Nigel Pearson after crushing relegation rivals Aston Villa 3-0 .

Everton won for the second time in two games with Italian Ancelotti at the helm as Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s double sealed the points at St James’ Park to ease Everton into mid-table. Fabian Schar had levelled for Newcastle but Calvert-Lewin’s fifth league goal in his last five games gave Everton the win.

Man City beaten

Pep Guardiola admitted Manchester City’s faint hopes of retaining the title were in tatters as they blew a two-goal lead and had Ederson sent off in a 2-3 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday.

Guardiola’s side recovered from Ederson’s 12th minute dismissal to take control thanks to Raheem Sterling’s double either side of half-time. But City’s fatigued stars were unable to go the distance as Adama Traore’s goal started a thrilling Wolves fightback.

Raul Jimenez equalised with eight minutes to go and Matt Doherty hit the winner to send Molineux wild in the 89th minute. 

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Luis Suarez renews vows

Barcelona forward Luis Suarez and wife Sofia Balbi have renewed their wedding vows at a star-studded gathering in Uruguay attended by Lionel Messi among others.

The celebration to mark 10 years of marriage took place on Thursday in a luxury tourist complex, La Barra, near the coastal city of Maldonado, about 130km east of the capital Montevideo.

A crowd of football fans, including many wearing the Barcelona strip, gathered near the entrance as Suarez’s club-mates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba arrived along with Ballon d’Or winner Messi and his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo.

Brazilian star Neymar was also there, local media said.

On November 25, Sofia Balbi took to Instagram and posted a picture with a caption that read, “Counting the days to tell you YES # 10years @ luissuarez9.”

Uruguay striker Suarez and Balbi exchanged “rings inscribed with their respective names, made from white gold and diamonds”, according to a statement.

The couple met when Suarez was 14. They married in a civil ceremony in Amsterdam in March 2009, but the religious ceremony took place on December 26, 2009, in Montevideo.

The couple have three children, and Suarez has previously talked about how his life changed after meeting Sofia.

In an interview, he had said: “I was going out at night. I didn’t enjoy studying and I wasn’t dedicating myself to football.” Tags

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Always Nice to Beat Brazil, for the Rivalry: Lionel Messi Scores for Argentina on Return from Ban

Lionel Messi returned from international suspension to score the winner in Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Brazil in Saudi Arabia on Friday.

After the game, Messi said that the wi over arch-rivals Brazil was ‘important’. “It’s important to win and it is always nice to beat Brazil, for the rivalry, which feels a lot of late,” said Messi.

It’s good for everything that is to come, to continue growing while looking towards the qualifiers and the next Copa America (in 2020).”

The Barcelona striker, who missed four games after calling the South American Football Confederation “corrupt,” scored after 14 minutes to give Argentina a deserved victory in the so-called Superclasico.

The result extended Brazil’s winless run to five games since they lifted the Copa America in July, their worst such run since 2013.

Brazil beat Argentina 2-0 the last time these teams met in the Copa America semi-finals and they should have taken a ninth-minute lead but Gabriel Jesus fired a penalty kick wide after he had been brought down in the box.

Argentina were also awarded a penalty five minutes later and although Brazilian keeper Alisson saved Messi’s initial effort, the Barcelona striker followed up to put Argentina 1-0 ahead.

Messi missed two chances to double Argentina’s lead before halftime, with defender Eder Militao and Alisson blocking the opportunities.

Brazil, who were without Paris St Germain striker Neymar, had two-thirds of the possession but rarely threatened the Argentine goal in a game that featured 41 fouls and six yellow cards.

Argentina, meanwhile, looked more sprightly, even without Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala, both of whom were unused substitutes.

Argentina have now won three of the five games they have played since their semi-final exit at the Copa America.

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Lionel Messi Told Me to Shut My Mouth, Alleges Brazil Coach Tite But Argentine Star Has the Last Laugh

Argentina captain Lionel Messi and Brazil coach Tite exchanged words during the clash between the South American giants on Friday but it was the forward who had the last laugh after his team’s good run continued with a 1-0 win in Saudi Arabia.

Messi looked to the touchline and put his fingers to his lips before making another hand sign that appeared to tell the Brazil coach he had too much to say for himself.

Tite admitted he had been complaining to the referee during the first half and said the two men exchanged words.

“I complained because he (Messi) should have been shown a yellow card and he told me to shut my mouth and I told him to shut his mouth,” Tite said. “And that was it.”

The Brazil coach played down the incident and highlighted Messi’s performance in the well-deserved friendly victory.

The Barcelona forward was one of the outstanding performers for Argentina on his return to international football after missing four games through suspension.

He scored the only goal after 14 minutes – his penalty was saved but he followed up to beat Alisson – and could have had another couple of goals but for some stout defending and the keeper’s awareness.

The result was encouraging for Argentina, who have now gone six games without defeat – their longest such run since 2016.

“From the very start we tried to play. We had a couple of misses and they had their chances,” Messi said. “But in the second half we were much better.

“When you win, it puts you more at ease and that is very positive for what lies ahead. I ended the match well, we all ran quite a bit. And that is what we were there to do.”

Argentina play Uruguay in a friendly next week while Brazil face South Korea.

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France, England and Portugal in Good Shape as UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying Reaches Climax

With the Netherlands missing out on Euro 2016 and Italy absent from the World Cup in 2018, some of Europe’s traditional football powers have surprisingly failed to advance to recent major international tournaments.

Don’t expect any big shocks when qualification for next year’s European Championship wraps up over the coming days.

Six teams – Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia and Ukraine – have already booked their places in the tournament and the remaining 14 automatic qualifiers will be determined after the final group games.

World champion France, European champion Portugal, and heavyweights such as Germany, England and the Netherlands are in good shape to finish in the top two in their respective groups, ensuring spots in the Europe-wide finals taking place in June and July.

There are big opportunities for Europe’s so-called lesser football nations, too. Finland, for example, needs only to beat Liechtenstein to qualify for its first major tournament.

France, the World Cup winner last year, is tied on points with Turkey in Group H and will secure a top-two finish by beating Moldova on Thursday. In case of an upset in that game in Paris, the French have another shot at qualification at Albania on Sunday.

Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, is guaranteed to advance in the defense of its title with wins over Lithuania at home and Luxembourg away – the bottom two teams in Group B.

England needs one win from its final two games – at home to Montenegro on Thursday and away to Kosovo on Sunday – to top Group A.

And in Group C, Germany and the Netherlands are tied on points and need a maximum of four points from their final two qualifiers. Both have to play Northern Ireland, which is three points behind in third place.

The last four qualifying spots for the 24-team Euros will be decided in the playoffs in March.

RONALDO’S CHALLENGE

Could Cristiano Ronaldo fail to qualify for a major tournament?

UEFA would hate to see the Portugal star miss out, but his team has lacked a spark in qualifying and is eight points off Group B leader Ukraine.

Portugal is favored to beat Lithuania on Thursday and Luxembourg on Sunday to secure second place.

Still, there’s little margin for error. Dropped points could allow Serbia to overtake, forcing Portugal into the playoffs.

ENGLAND LANDMARK

England will be playing its 1,000th men’s international in the match against Montenegro and the occasion will be marked in a number of ways, including recognizing the notable contributions of former players and managers. Players will wear individual “legacy numbers” on their jerseys.

England manager Gareth Southgate is hoping a line can be drawn following scenes last month when his players were racially abused by some Bulgaria fans during England’s 6-0 win in Sofia. The game was stopped on two occasions by the referee. England’s match away to Montenegro in March was also marred by racist chanting toward England’s black players, notably Raheem Sterling.

“The players will want to move on, really,” Southgate said. “I think, for all of them, they dealt with it brilliantly and it would be wrong not to discuss it at all but I know that they want to get on with the football.”

Kosovo, which was accepted as a member of UEFA and FIFA only in 2016, is third in the group and could secure automatic qualification with a win at the Czech Republic on Thursday and a draw against England.

FINALLY FINLAND?

Finland is the only Nordic team never to have qualified for a World Cup or a European Championship. That could all change this week.

The Finns are second in Group J, five points clear of both Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and will join Italy in advancing to the finals with a win at home against last-placed Liechtenstein on Friday or if Bosnia fails to beat the Italians. Finland’s second chance, if needed, comes against Greece on Monday.

Finland is coached by a primary school teacher, Markku Kanerva, who led the country to a first ever European Under-21 Championship in 2009 and is impressing with the senior team a decade on.

Teemu Pukki has seven goals in qualifying as the team looks to go further than it ever did with past greats such as Sami Hyypia and Jari Litmanen.

CROATIA AT RISK

Croatia is finding European qualifying harder than last year’s World Cup.

The Croatians lead the evenly matched Group E but if they lose to Slovakia on Saturday the World Cup finalists could end up relying on other results to go their way.

Another team in a fight to qualify is Switzerland, which is third in Group D behind Ireland and Denmark, but is a big favorite against Gibraltar.

PLAYOFF SHOOTOUT

The playoffs offer a last chance for unsuccessful teams, but it’s a complex process.

Sixteen teams who didn’t qualify automatically will be ranked according to their divisions from the 2018 Nations League and put into four single-elimination brackets.

At the bottom end, there’s the League D playoff, which is guaranteed to hand one team its debut at a major championship. Georgia and Belarus have secured a place in that playoff mini-tournament and will likely be joined by Kosovo and North Macedonia.

The highest division almost certainly won’t have enough unqualified teams to make a four-team bracket, so will recruit extras from lower tiers. That could hand League A’s Iceland a fortunate draw with League C teams such as Bulgaria and Israel.

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