It was a historic moment for the Indian football fanatic fans. For the first time, the Spanish league, La Liga, preponed El Clasico, the famed matches played between two age-old rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid, by a few hours to woo and wow Indians. The  December 3 game began at 8.45 PM, India time, rather than 12.30 AM. To top it all, the league’s local office organised giant screenings in Delhi and Mumbai which were attended by 14,000 and 6,000 folks, respectively. For two hours, thousands of people partied non-stop with football, food and booze at the capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

“Both Real Madrid and Barcelona enjoy huge popularity in India and we feel that we owe the passionate fans a chance to experience such an event,” said Javier Tebas, president, La Liga. Added Luis Garcia, who has played for Spain’s Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid, “It was a fantastic atmosphere at the screening and it was wonderful to see such enthusiasm from the crowd. It was a high intensity match and all the fans who turned out will be happy.” Tanishk, a Real Madrid fan, said that the “energy and ambiance is worth the pain.”

Credit: Swati Dey

At the Nehru Stadium, a ‘theater-size’ LED screen (38’x18′), along with a set of smaller ones (8’x4′), ensured visibility from all angles. Still, there were dozens who climbed the trees to get a better view. No one was unhappy that they had to stand the entire time as there were no seats. In fact, the fans were elated that there was a food court and also a bar. Tebas seemed satisfied: “This is a big step, and what we believe will be a great start to our journey in India.”

Apart from El Clasico, the evening was attended by Kunal Kapoor of the Dear Zindagi and Rang de Basanti movies’ fame and video jockey, Anusha. A mini-football game was held before the ‘Match’, and loud music accompanied it. For the fans like Kushagra Jain, who came with his friends from Galgotia University in Noida, it was “a match between (Cristiano) Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and (Lionel) Messi (Barcelona”. For the organisers, it was a tussle between the celebrity quotient of La Liga and EPL (English Premier League).

La Liga believes that its league has the more renowned players – Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar (Brazil), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), and Karim Benzema (France) – it is the EPL, and its teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, which has a higher following among the Indians. This is why Tebas wants to “take La Liga across the world”, establish it as a “global and inclusive” league, get closer to the fans, and provide them with “newer, more exciting experiences”. La Liga wants to be the most skilled and popular league.

Before the match began, the opposing fans seemed confident about their teams. “Barcelona is perhaps playing better, but not up to its mark,” felt Prasun Shome. Retorted Adhar Sharma, “Barcelona is out of form, so Real Madrid will win.” It was only ironical that it ended in a 1-1 draw with both teams frittering away easy chances to score a winning goal. However, the comments and analyses didn’t stop after the match.

“Benzema came in the way, otherwise Ronaldo would have scored with his bicycle kick,” said Saif Sami, obviously reminded of the move in the second half. It was a near-perfect shot, minus the French star. Saif’s younger brother, Ajmal, who is an encyclopedia of sports and has facts on his fingertips, was there too. So were two friends, who are football rivals – Gunjun Motiramani, who supports Barcelona and madly follows the exploits of the famous trio of Neymar-Messi-Suarez, and Neda Hashimi, a Real Madrid admirer whose football God is, obviously, Ronaldo. Motiramani said that her team should have won.

Former La Liga player, Frederic Kanoute, thought that it was an “evenly-fought match” and was a “treat” for those who saw it live. Kanoute was present at the screening in Mumbai’s Khar Stadium. The final words came from Rajesh Kaul, president (distribution and sports), Sony Pictures, which is the league’s Indian broadcaster, and which earned millions of dollars from the preponement and screenings. “El Clasico is among the most viewed annual sporting events in the world and we are enabling football fans… an opportunity to experience one of the most heavily-anticipated games of the season with the football legends,” he said.

The story originally published at Patriot


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