In what could arguably be the first-ever convergence of top Indian celebrities at one venue, the much awaited Indian Super League; ISL made a grand start on Sunday with an extravagant opening ceremony. Apart from film-stars and celebrity cricketers, who own the franchises, the glittering show was attended by ministers, industrialists and other big names from Bollywood. No colors were missing from the superbly controlled pyrotechnics, which followed enthusiastic welcome speeches from organizers. Everyone believes that the advent of ISL will light up football scene in India. It was fitting that the glitzy show took off in Kolkata, a city that continued to remain the nerve-center of football activity in India. It was indeed heartening for the organizers that the big show captured world-wide attention; evidenced by the presence of scores of overseas TV Networks and media representatives of national and international newspapers, magazines, tabloids and other publications from Japan to Latin America. Ever since FIFA boss Sam Blatter called India a sleeping football giant, there has been more than just a perfunctory interest in Indian football. The ISL features foreign footballers and coaches from several countries in Europe and Latin America and that is reason enough for the global attention that ISL is attracting. But ISL bosses must understand that the success or failure of their endeavor will rest with domestic players and the development of their game-skills.
The opening ceremony had an enthralling presence of throbbing Bollywood music and dance performers with an exotic fireworks display over Kolkata’s Salt Lake stadium, which had 70,000 fans applauding every moment. But the man, who stole the show was cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. As he walked onto the ground, he received a tumultuous welcome from everyone in the stadium. It was as if the great Sachin was coming out to bat again, except that it was not the Eden Gardens. To greet him in the middle was the superbly talented Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who introduced Tendulkar as the greatest sporting legend in India and she joined the crowd in cheering the master blaster. Another former cricketer, Sourav Ganguly said that with passage of time football would become the second biggest sport after cricket. He conceded that international players now in the league could not be called the current stars but added that ISL would finally attract the best in the game as the times go by.
In the inaugural match of ISL, soon after the ceremonies, Atletico de Kolkata scored a 3-0 win over Mumbai City FC. While the match provided a reason for further celebration to Kolkatans, the game itself failed to rise to the expectations of the viewers at large. However, there is still hope ahead since it would be unfair to judge ISL based on the first game. After a goalless and haphazard session lasting 27 minutes, Ethiopia’s Fikru Tefera scored tournament’s first goal for Atletico de Kolkata and celebrated with a fantastic double summersault. The move originated in Mumbai’s half as Luis Garcia intercepted the ball and found Fikru near the Mumbai goal area. The Ethiopian striker latched on nicely and coolly lobbed the ball over the head of Mumnai FC goalkeeper. Except this one flash of brilliance, the game became a bit of a drag. Neither side could exhibit coordination nor the fluidity associated with modern-day football. After halftime, ex-Real Madrid player Borja Fernandez scored another goal for ATK, thus achieving a 2-0 lead for his team. Deep into the injury time, ATK substitute Arnal Llibert of the Czech Republic made it 3-0 for ATK.
Earlier, Rahim Nabi was given the honor of leading Mumbai City FC but early in the first half , Nabi was yellow-carded for wrongly tackling ATK left-back Biswajit Saha. Nabi finally left the ground on stretcher before the break, when he suffered a serious ankle injury. The only time Mumbai City came close to scoring was when Raju Gaikwad tried his hands to redirect Lalrindika Ralte’s free-kick to the goal in 19th minute. Gaikwad invited immediate booking.
ATK’s Luis Garcia had his hand in the first two goals and another could have been scored if a nice feed from Garcia was not muffed by Baljit Sahni in front of the goal. Mumbai brought Italian forward Andre Moritz in the second-half to add some sting to their game but the move didn’t have the desired effect. Mumbai also suffered from the absence of former French international Nicolas Anelka and injured ex-Arsenal and Sweden star Fredrik Ljungberg.