India football captain Sunil Chhetri said playing against archrivals Pakistan was ‘always special’, as his team geared up for an ice-breaking two-match series starting on Sunday.
The ace striker also hoped the short series would help improve the political climate between the hostile neighbours.
“All the matches that I have played against them [Pakistan] have been much more than a normal game and both sides are aware of it,” said Chhetri.
“For them too, this is a special game. An Indo-Pak clash is always special.”
Football takes a back seat in the cricket-mad subcontinent, but such is the rivalry between the two countries that any sporting clash attracts keen interest.
“History will tell you that sports has always been the binding factor in promoting bilateral relations between the two countries,” said Chhetri.
“It’s important to build relationships via sports, especially with your neighbouring countries.”
India suspended bilateral sporting ties with its neighbour in the aftermath of the deadly 2008 attacks on Mumbai, blamed on militants from Pakistan.
That deadlock hurt cricket the most, a game millions are obsessed with on both sides of the border.
The Pakistan cricket team did tour India for a short limited-over series in December 2012-January 2013, but the countries are yet to play a full bilateral series.
The football series also offers the teams an opportunity to assess their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the Asian Games in South Korea next month.
Online tickets for Sunday’s game were sold out with brisk selling also reported at the stadium’s box office.
“The response has been very good,” said All India Football Federation media manager Kunaal Majgaonkar.
“We had offered 2,400 tickets online and all of these have been sold out. Window sales are also brisk and 85% tickets have been sold so far,” he said.
The second and final match will be played on Wednesday.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.
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