On the right track
By Ergo Correspondent
Baichung Bhutia and company are making the most out of their month-long training sojourn in Barcelona. The national side, preparing to defend their Nehru Cup title, has been overawed by the opportunity to stay and practice at the Cataluña giant Barcelona’s home turf. Midfielder and the goal scorer from last year’s Nehru Cup final, N.P. Pradeep said from Barcelona: “It’s like a dream. The Nou camp is just three minutes walk from our hotel. And from our rooms you can see the whole complex. The rich tradition and history of the club is everywhere to see. It’s like a dream world.”
The Indian players had their first outdoor training session at the La Masia ground on Friday, where the Barca greats had trained for the last 25 years, before moving to a much bigger complex at the outskirts of the city earlier this February.
“We are enjoying every minute of our stay. The city, the culture, everything attracts you. But nothing can beat the Nou Camp,” I-League winner Churchill Brother’s goalie Arindam Bhattcharya said. “It’s an out of the world experience to train here and go through the trophy rooms and museum. Even this year’s Champions League trophy is on display.”
Speaking about the team’s training schedule, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury said: “The practise sessions are going on well, because the ground and the environment is very good. Practising in Barcelona is great for us and for Indian football.”
Meanwhile, the team is expected to play their first friendly game against Spanish third division side Unio Esportiva Castelldefels on July 25. Castelldefels plays in the Tercera Division (fourth level in Spanish football league system after La Liga, second division A and B) but are still expected to give the Indian team a run for their money.
Their second match is against another Tercera Division side, Associacio Esportiva El Prat. The teams for the last two matches, expected to be played on the first week of August are yet to be decided. “These lower rung club sides are way ahead of us in terms of technique and quality,” coach Bob Houghton said. “Losing by a few goals to them will also be an achievement. But I think the boys will be able to pull of a few surprises.”
Defending champions India are expected to face tough competition from continental rivals, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka in the 14th edition of the Nehru Cup to be played at Delhi’s Dr. Ambedkar Stadium from August 18.