Goan legends in their twilight create magic under floodlights
PANAJI: Nicholas Pereira was itching to join the legends on the field, but at 68, he had to listen to his body.
The only Goan to score on debut for India at the Merdeka Trophy in 1973 watched from the stands as several others, many of them his former teammates, served up a treat in the Legends Match, organised by Sesa Goa, at the Duler Football Stadium, Mapusa, on Saturday.
Not counting the ones in the stands, there were 36 of them on the field. At the top were the two Arjuna awardees — Brahmanand Shankhwalkar and Bruno Coutinho — while there appeared to be a surfeit of former India captains and veterans. Former India under-23 coach Derrick Pereira led one of the two teams, Robert Fernandes was at the centre of defence, while Dempo Sports Club stalwarts Climax Lawrence, Samir Naik and Clifford Miranda all made their presence felt.
There were former internationals like Mario Soares, Lector Mascarenhas, Micky Fernandes, Anthony D’Souza and Alex Alvares too, while Marcus Carvalho, who had struck such a delightful striking partnership for Goa and Dempo SC with Francis Silveira, too made a rare appearance.
“It’s good to see everyone again. We come across some of our teammates during veteran tournaments, but to see so many greats together was quite something,” said Bruno, probably the best-known footballer that Goa has produced.
With so many legends on the field, can joga bonito be far behind? The pace was slow; in the second half for instance, even rolling substitutions didn’t help, but the opening goal from Vishant Pednekar’s boots — a stinging drive from almost 30 yards out — got the crowd on its feet.
If anyone had missed the announcements of a friendly contest, they would have mistaken this for a competitive game. Bruno couldn’t help argue with the assistant referee for a wrong call. Derrick gave the referee a deadly stare, and a player who had a reputation for picking up yellow cards at his prime lived up to his name: he argued with the referee and got himself booked!
Fittingly, at the end of the 70-minute contest, the teams could not be separated. They were locked 2-2 in regulation time and the tiebreaker that followed also failed to throw up a winner. Almost as if it was designed to happen this way, the teams were tied 10-10 in the sudden death tiebreaker with goalkeepers Avertano Furtado (a former fisheries minister) and Jude Fernandes saving one penalty each for their respective teams.
The teams decided they wouldn’t opt for the toss to decide the winner. They shook hands, embraced and then trooped out with big smiles on their faces. There was one problem, though. The organisers had two trophies — for the winners and runnersup! That problem was soon solved as the labels on the trophies were ripped off.
At the end of a wonderful evening under lights at Duler, everyone was a winner.