Ball rolls for football season in Kochi

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Kochi:  The ball has started rolling for a season of football at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here. The national football league, now known as the I-League, is set to make a return to Kochi on December 23. An international event, involving the junior (under-19) teams of some of the world's most famous football clubs, is also in the offing early next year.

Although Chirag United Kerala, formerly Viva Kerala, had submitted to the All-India Football Federation that the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium would be their home ground when they played in the I-League for the first time in 2007, they have never been able to play at the venue.

It was closed for renovation in 2007 and post-renovation, it was taken on lease by the Kerala Cricket Association for the Indian Premier League matches last season.

Even this year, they have had to wait till the sixth home match as the stadium was hosting Ranji Trophy matches during the period. Having started their home season off at Thiruvananthapuram, Chirag are scheduled to play 8 matches here, extending till April, 2012.

The proposed international tournament for academy teams from the likes of  F C Barcelona, A C Milan, Manchester United, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Glasgow Celtic is being pitched for a February-March window in 2012.

With Chirag slated to play their first ever I-League match at their 'home ground' on December 23 against Kolkata giants Kingfisher East Bengal, the Kerala Football Association officials got down to work at the venue on Thursday.

"We have found the right alignments for the football field and the marking will begin on Friday. Within two days, the goal posts will also be erected," All India Football Federation Referees' Assessor S Ramachandran, in charge of ground specifications, told City Express..

Ramachandran, a member of the local organising committee, said that the goal posts will be portable. "We will place one-and-a-half metre-deep flanges as the base of the posts.  The posts will be bolted to the top portion of the flanges. If there is a need to host cricket matches, the posts can be removed and the holes close off. The base will remain underground and can be used again when football matches return," said Ramachandran.

The last national league game was played way back in 2002 when the now defunct F C Kochin slipped out of the scene with a 0-5 humiliation against Kolkata club Tollygunge Agragami.

The last full international match at the venue was the India-Oman Pre-Olympic qualifier in 2004 while an exhibition match featuring Brazilian club Sao Paulo was held in 2007.

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