Right opposite the stand from where cameras were beaming the ISL match between Delhi Dynamos and North East United to lakhs of homes across India on December 2nd, sat the ‘Dynamos Ultras’. Carrying banners such as ‘capital punishment’ and ‘bhaago, sher aaya’ (run, the lion’s coming) and making themselves heard with their chants and viking claps, the ultras were there to intimidate the opposition and spur their team on to victory.
The scene, however, didn’t feel quite right. It could have been either that the ultras barely numbered a few hundred in a stadium that held 60,000 spectators, or that their support was dwarfed by the number of North East United fans in the stadium. In either case, it summed up the evening of football that the Delhi Dynamos experienced as a franchise – everyone turned up, but no one seemed to enjoy the party.
The home team went down 2-0 on the night, thanks to goals from Marcio de Souza Gregoria Jr and Danilo Lopes Cezario in the 17th and 22nd minute. Dynamos, hosting their first home game had earlier won their opening game in Pune, and lost their second game in Bengaluru. At both venues, the crowds turned up in numbers and created a raucous atmosphere, and Delhi had a tough act to follow. Unfortunately, for a host of reasons, it was not nearly the same.
The official attendance for the match was above the 8,000 mark, not the biggest number, but definitely a crowd capable of being heard and having an effect on the home team. The problematic part arises when the crowd is seated in a huge multipurpose stadium with a capacity of 60,000. It still looked largely empty, and the acoustics did not help keep the noise from the stands inside the stadium as well. Add to the mix the fact that the Delhi fans were out-shouted by the North East United fans, and the franchise’s first experience of the ISL at home this season looks embarrassing.
What was more embarrassing was the manner in which the Dynamos conceded both goals on the night. The first one arose from a situation where Holicharan Narzary ran through free on the left flank, and looped in a cross to the far post where Gregorio Junior gleefully guided the ball into the net, not believing his luck at being left all on his own with no one marking. The second one was a schoolboy error from goalkeeper Albino Gomes, who just complicated things by dawdling on the ball for more time than required, after collecting a back-pass from Prateek Chowdhury. Striker Danilo Lopes Cezario stole the ball from under Gomes’ nose and tapped it into an empty net, doubling the lead for North East and sending their fans in the stands into raptures. Certainly not a good advert for the ISL.
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Apart from the goals, much of the game was a non-event, with North East recognizing that the hard bit was done and they could concentrate more on defending for the minutes remaining. The onus was on Dynamos to be the more creative side and claw their way back into the game, but even their star Indian player Lallianzuala Chhangte could not make a difference after coming on in the second half. With Dynamos resorting to long-ball football and almost playing with a non-existent midfield, the match had a foregone conclusion.
Dynamos coach Miguel Angel Portugal addressed this very style of play in his post-match conference. In a manner one normally does not associate with the manager of a football team, Portugal seemed to suggest that his players were not technically equipped enough to play a game which involves passing the ball out from the defense, and that he had no other option but to resort to long-ball football. “It’s the same thing I said earlier, the technical ability of the defense is not of a very high level,” he said. “I don’t like to play long. My philosophy is play from the back, but it is impossible when the players have as low or little technique. So it’s better to play long.”
Whether Portugal’s harsh words are likely to fire up his team and give them more reason to perform in the next match, or shoot any strain of confidence they had remains to be seen. What is certain is that Delhi Dynamos need to start gathering points in this season’s ISL sooner rather than later. The promising victory in their first game against Pune seems like a distant memory, post which the team has lost two matches already. The next match against Jamshedpur FC comes along on Wednesday, December 6, so the team has the chance to put things right relatively early. They would dearly hope that it won’t be a case of getting snared in their own ‘Den’ once again.