TEHRAN: Is this a different match? Or is it just another match? Your thought shuffles every alternate minute. You eventually give up. It’s futile chasing and trying to find an answer. You decide to take a stroll.
Downstairs, you bump into the Pakistani team. “Eid Mubarak,” — the Pakistani team management who have been so cordial, it seems were waiting for you. You engage in a talk and it goes on and on. The Pakistani U-19 footballers pass by; exchange pleasantries and disappear in the elevator. No other two teams ever sit and speak and chat at length prior to a match. ‘This is just another match,’ you start to believe.
|U-19 boys at the Team Hotel premises in Tehran
Toal’s rival counterpart, Pakistan’s Coach Shahzad Anwar takes it further. “India have been distinctly unlucky against Uzbekistan. This team is one for the future,” he adds.
You ask him the obvious question. Shahzad smiles. “It’s all about Fair and Positive Play. Indo-Pak matches are all about the sporting spirit,” he quips. The staff and the boys — all together were posing for family albums in the snow by then.
“The moment Afghanistan pulled out of Group C our boys were deprived of playing another International Match. This is the last match in our Group and like all other matches, we will play to win; and like all other matches, we will stress on our strengths,” Toal adds.
By now, you stay convinced, ‘It’s just another match.’
“It’s a tendency for all to blow up an Indo-Pak clash – be it in cricket, hockey or football. That’s never the case. But yeah, the spirit of this match stays different,” Shahzad reiterates. “It’s Eid – a Special Day. But here we are – away from home and the boys are preparing for a match. So you can call it a different match,” he laughs.
It’s a different weather altogether. First, there was rain and now there’s snow — it snowed all night in Tehran. There’s snow on the tennis courts, there’s snow on the garden chairs; there’s snow on the cars; there’s snow in the captured frames. And despite some brief spells of sunshine, the forecast doesn’t stay bright for Tuesday.
The kick-off for ‘just another match’ with a ‘different spirit’ is at 3.30pm (IST: 5.30pm). India have three points from three outings while Pakistan are yet to open their account.