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Football crazy Buriram ready to host India in King’s Cup

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By Debayan Mukherjee

Buriram (Thailand) June 4 (IANS) The heavy Asian Cup defeat still fresh in their memory, the football lovers here have revenge on their minds and await India take on Thailand in the final of the four-nation King’s Cup knockout tournament which gets underway at the Chang Arena from Wednesday.

It was in January this year that the football mad city of Buriram, like the entire country, watched in agony as their national team went down 1-4 at the hands of India, with Sunil Chhetri finding the back of the net twice in the Asian Cup.

Tucked in a quiet corner of the buzzing country known for its tourism, Buriram has the largest club-owned football stadium in Thailand, but is mostly starved of international football.

The King’s Cup, taking place in Buriram for the first time, will see four teams vying for top honours over two days. While India will take on Curacao, hosts Thailand will lock horns with Vietnam, both matches scheduled on June 5, for a place in the final on June 8 with the losers playing for the third place on the same day.

“We have had some of the best players like even Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos play here. But in Buriram, we haven’t had the chance to see them live,” a local, who earns his living by selling Thai delicacy ‘Mango sticky rice’, told IANS.

“In every house, kids play football in Buriram. It’s our passion and we are happy that finally we can watch some international level football. I want a Thailand versus India final. They beat us badly,” he added.

Besides the Brazil team which took part in the invitational meet in 1999, other famous footballers who featured in the King’s Cup are Peter Schmeichel, Henrik Larsson, Robert Lewandowski, and Martin Skrtel.

India have previously played in the King’s Cup in 1977, finishing third.

The 32,600-seater Chang Arena is home to Thailand’s 2011, 2013, and 2015 treble champions, Buriram United.

Almost at every corner of the otherwise sleepy town, known for its extinct volcanoes, there are hoardings of the Buriram United team players and every second person on the road is donning the club jersey.

“We love them,” an official at the ground said. “They are our pride. But when the national team plays in our area, nothing can beat that. We are ready to host the tournament,” she said.

Preparation has been in full swing for the past week at the “Thunder Castle”, nickname of the stadium which means the fifth castle of Buriram Province.

The match between India and Curacao is sold out and tickets for the other matches are also running out fast, an official said.

For India, it will be their first match under newly appointed head coach Igor Stimac.

Chhetri and Co. are set to play two invitational tournaments — King’s Cup and Intercontinental Cup — at home before the FIFA World Cup qualifiers start in September.

The 23-member squad reached Buriram on Monday morning after staying overnight in Bangkok.

“The first five games we are getting (with Stimac) are against Curacao, Vietnam or Thailand, North Korea, Tajikistan and Syria. That’s a very decent line-up. Last time we didn’t play five teams back-to-back like this. I hope all the other (international friendly) dates the coach wants, he gets them,” Chhetri had said before leaving Indian shores.

“I just hope when the qualifiers start in September, we understand what the coach wants and he understands exactly the kind of pool he has to choose from,” he added.

Croatian Stimac took over from Englishman Stephen Constantine who stepped down after India’s group stage exit from the Asian Cup.

(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at [email protected])



(This story has not been edited by Newsd staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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