Giggs, Ronaldinho create fantasy football in Bengaluru
Premier Futsal's opening night in Bengaluru had been a bit of a damp squib. As the league's MD Dinesh Raj explained on Wednesday, heavy rainfall at the previous venue, Mumbai, delayed the marquee players' arrival in the city, forcing Mumbai Warriors and Bengaluru Royals to take the field without their respective stars, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, on Tuesday.
Wednesday was a different affair, as the two Manchester United titans took to the Koramangala Indoor Stadium court, turned the clock back with their guile and vision, and won some of their fans back in the process.
Giggs was up first, and was upstaged in the early stages by Chennai Singhams' Hernan Crespo, whose hair has now much more salt than pepper. It would whip Giggs and his team into action, with the former Welsh international extracting a superb save with a strong right-footed strike and then hitting the post with a left-footer soon after.
Mumbai completed a great comeback within the first half, and Giggs topped it with a cracking left-footed volley from near the centre-line, clocked by the broadcasters at 134 kmph, to put his team up 4-2 early in the second half. Mumbai would go on to win 5-3.
"When you do your best moments, you don't think," Giggs said after the match, with two of his younger Indian colleagues in goalkeeper Vatsal Bhatia and winger Chanpreet Singh hanging on to his every word. "It's just natural and instinct. I didn't think anything until I saw it in the goal and it mattered."
About the transition from a regular football field to a futsal court, he said, "It's different. It's stop-start, a lot of turning, a lot of physical (intensity). It's always difficult when you come together, but each game we have worked (harder). I know a few of the players from last year. There's a good spirit from last year, which is always important."
Chanpreet and Bhatia were full of praise for their senior player, and his motivational skills in particular. Those were on display on Wednesday evening, as Giggs would walk up to his teammates and pass on tips as they continued with their climb back into the game. "He's always motivating us. If you do a good move, he'll always support you and if you're lagging somewhere, he'll help you out," said Chanpreet.
Bhatia said, "We are actually lucky to have him with us. He's amazing. He always tells me about the game -- when to come out and when not to. He always guides and that's a very positive thing to play. You get more confidence to play."
Chanpreet's eyes lit up when talking about Mumbai's fourth goal, off Giggs' left foot. "You saw the goal today -- it was the best goal of the season!"
The stadium erupted in applause as soon as Giggs scored his only goal of the night. The cheers wouldn't die down though, as a man with buck teeth and in a sleeveless black vest walked into the arena.
Ronaldinho had checked in, and the Bengaluru faithful just couldn't get enough of him. The first person he greeted was Albert Roca, once an assistant to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona and now in charge of Bengaluru FC.
When Ronaldinho took to the field for Delhi Dragons, there was a minor obstacle in his path that went by the name of Paul Scholes. Scholes took it upon himself to mark the Delhi marquee out of the game. There were hard tackles, some harmless professional fouls, but massive mutual respect as Bengaluru Royals sauntered to a 3-0 lead. Scholes played as a sweeper when required, but invariably his passes led to all of Bengaluru's goals.
The crowd hadn't forgiven him for Tuesday though, as boos rang each time he touched the ball. Besides, Scholes wasn't letting Bengaluru's fans see the best of Ronaldinho.
At least not yet.
What got Ronaldinho going was when a couple of refereeing decisions went against his team in the second half. He ghosted in on the far post to toe-poke his first goal, then whipped a long-ranger off a free kick set on to his path for his second goal, and then rounded up the Bengaluru goalkeeper before rolling the ball into the net.
It made for a heart-stopping finish, as Delhi came back from 4-1 and then 5-3 to score in the last two minutes to get the game to 5-5.
Scholes was massive, but Bengaluru got to see a Ronaldinho hat trick. Scholes missing out on three points must have felt a bit like divine providence for those still annoyed about his having missed out on Tuesday.
The biggest gain from Wednesday night was the crowd in Koramangala. There was no empty seat by the end of the night.
Giggs had seen it all before, and felt Season 2 has already done enough to make futsal more popular in India. "You see the crowd tonight -- it's very good," he said. "Hopefully, (with) the games tonight and you get to see Ronaldinho. The more exposure, the more the people will come and watch and support."