It was a sunny and sticky day at the famous German Sports School in Hennef. The Indian U-17 national team geared up for a friendly match against a German junior team and none of us imagined that we would remember this specific match for the rest of our lives. It was a historic August 18, 2002 – the day when an unknown youngster called Lukas Podolski scored against India…
Lukas Podolski? The famous German international? The new Arsenal star? Yes, the famous “Prince of German football”! You might already say: WOW! How did it happen? And when did Podolski play against India? Well, let me unfold the history chronologically!
The Indian U-17 national team coached by Islam Akhmedov had qualified for the 2002 AFC U17 Championship and the team was looking for an adequate preparation for the finals in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore my colleague and good old friend Arunava Chaudhuri [+ Arunava @Facebook] and I [+ Chris @Facebook] organised a training camp at the renowned “Sportschule Hennef”. The Sports School is regularly used by many clubs and national teams for their training camps.
Coach Akhmedov enjoyed the training sessions at the premises of the Sports School and he drilled his wards in the German heat. But the Uzbek gaffer was of course looking forward to some useful match practise abroad. So we arranged a few matches during the camp for the talented bunch of youngsters which included the likes of Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh, Subrata Pal, Subashish Roy Chowdhury and many others who happen to be familiar faces in the senior Indian national team nowadays.
We were able to secure the U-17 team of Bundesliga outfit 1. FC Köln (Cologne) for the first match at the “Sportschule Hennef”. The Cologne team arrived in several minivans and they looked like an interesting bunch of players expecting nothing less than an easy game against a team from a far away, cricket-crazy country called India.
But the Indian team led by captain Habibur Rehman Mondal was not the material for a walkover as the German team realised quickly! This young Indian team was most probably one of the strongest junior teams Indian football has ever seen. The team was a disciplined and skilful equipe which had an experienced mentor in coach Islam Akhmedov.
The friendly match was played at the main training ground of the Sports School and a handful fans including Indians were present to watch the encounter. But sadly we were unable to find match officials for the game. Luckily one of the attending spectators happened to be a referee and he agreed to officiate the match, while Arunava [+ Arunava @Facebook] and I [+ Chris @Facebook] acted as the assistant referees.
So the game kicked-off with India starting in the all-white kit, while Cologne played in their golden jerseys and black shorts. Our boys started off well and Tata Football Academy striker Malswama gave the Indian U-17 national team a 1-0 lead.
And the boys kept the pressure high with a hard-running game despite the heat and they were rewarded with a second goal. But Cologne was able to reduce the margin ahead of the half-time whistle and they had some belief that they could turn the match into their favour.
But the Indian team further increased the lead and the boys were up front 3-1 till the 85th minute of the game. It looked like we would register a win in the first match on German soil. But then suddenly a tiny Cologne striker called Lukas caused some problems to the Indian defenders. Lukas hit the target twice to level the score and to prove the traditional assessment that German teams shouldn’t be written off till the final whistle is blown.
We had noticed this agile guy called Lukas earlier in the match, when he was knocked out during an air battle in the Indian box. He was fine after a few minutes of medical treatment. But we didn’t expect this guy to comeback so strongly and to score twice in the dying moments of the game. Some would say he punished India’s lack of experience.
We asked the 1. FC Köln coach about the youngster and his name in a post-match chat. We were told by the coach: “That’s Lukas Podolski. A very talented player.”
OK, Lukas Podolski. We noted down the name into our personal records, but we didn’t think too much about this guy afterwards. The years went by and we all know what happened to this talented youngster from the 2002 1. FC Köln U-17 team. Podolski is one of the most popular German players globally and he has turned into the focus of even more Indian fans since his transfer to EPL side Arsenal.
Footballers around the globe dream of playing against the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and all the other big guns of the game. But sometimes you have even more pride, when you realise that you have played against one of the big names before he became the much celebrated superstar. India stars Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh, Subrata Pal and company still look back in pride, when they talk about this special match.
The India U-17 team enjoyed the camp in Germany and the players still say that this first camp in Europe was very influential for the rest of their career. Mangi even thanked Arunava [+ Arunava @Facebook] and me [+ Chris @Facebook] for the camp during an interview with Deutsche Welle Radio at the sidelines of the AFC Asian Cup 2011.
Talking from a personal perspective I need to say that I have to thank the boys for this wonderful camp! I still remember those days in Hennef and it was an excellent experience. Many friendships have developed with the likes of Mangi and Subrata during the camp in 2002 and these friendships still exist.
And well… I’m proud to have witnessed this remarkable day in Hennef, when Lukas Podolski scored against India! I hope we will be able to read a similar story in ten years time. But the headline should be: “The day, when an Indian star scored against us”! Any objections…?
INDIA U-17 MATCHES
August 18, 2002 | at Sportschule Hennef
India U-17 3-3 1.FC Köln U-17
August 19, 2002 | at Sportschule Hennef
India U-17 4-0 SC Viktoria Koeln U-17
August 24, 2002 | at Stadion Reinshagen, Remscheid
International Indian Football Series 2002
Match 1: India U-17 5-1 Remscheid
Match 2: India U-17 3-1 Mahal Khalsa FC, United Kingdom
Match 3: India U-17 3-1 IFSC Germany
INDIA U-17 SQUAD
1-Subrata Pal (Tata Football Academy), 20-Subashish Roy Chowdhury (Tata Football Academy), 25-Shaik Nasibul Haque (City AC, Bengal)
2-Ailad Kharnggap Ngapkyta (Langsning SC, Meghalaya), 3-Habibur Rehman Mondal (Tata Football Academy – Captain), 4-Rocus Lamare (Lajong SSC, Meghalaya), 5-Debabrata Roy (Tata Football Academy), 12-Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh (Tata Football Academy), 15-Chitrasen Chandam Singh (Tata Football Academy), 18-Bhola Prasad (Tata Football Academy)
6-Raltalal Muankima (PHE, Mizoram), 7-Lekini Suting (Mohun Bagan AC Jr.), 8-Francis Marbaniang (Langsning SC, Meghalaya), 10-Jerry Zirsanga (Tata Football Academy), 14-John Michael Shadap (Lajong SC, Meghalaya), 17-Ashish Pandey (Mughals SC, Delhi), 19-Ravindra Thapliyal (Indian Air Force, Delhi)
9-Marlanki Sutang (Mohun Bagan AC Jr.), 11-Malswama (Tata Football Academy), 13-Vanlal Rova (Tata Football Academy)
Islam Akhmedov (Head Coach), Prasanta Banerjee (Coach), Hering Shangpliang (Assistant Coach), B. Dingdoh (Manager), Dipti Kumar Ghosh (Doctor)