Football: Messi Dazzles India, Bhutia Retires in 2011

Abhishek Hore / New Delhi
Football: Messi Dazzles India, Bhutia Retires in 2011
Argentine wunderkind Lionel Messi's visit was undoubtedly the watershed moment for Indian football in a year during which its torchbearer Bhaichung Bhutia walked into the sunset after an illustrious career spanning a decade and a half.

Messi's three-day stay in Kolkata created a never-seen-before buzz not only in the city of joy but the entire nation as it watched with bated breadth the 23-year-old weave his magic in front of a stadium packed to the rafters.

September 1 was a date those present at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata and the millions glued to the TV sets would not like to forget in a hurry.

Even as the Messi-led Argentine XI, including Barcelona team-mate Javier Mascherano, displayed their sorcery in the exhibition match against Venezuela, the aficionados of Indian football saw the event as a platform designed to give the sport's profile a boost in the sub-continent.

The high-profile international match — a first in India — generated widespread excitement and raked in the moolah from broadcasting, sponsorship and ticket sales.

The match, part of a push to turn the country into one of the world's major soccer powers, was telecast live in 150 countries.

Cut to the Indian footballers, it was Bhutia's retirement that was the talk of the town.

Known as the 'Sikkimese Sniper' for his shooting skills, the poster boy of Indian football for a major part of the last two decades called it quits on August 24, bringing to an end an era that saw the national team qualify for the Asian Cup after a gap of 24 years besides winning two Nehru Cup titles.
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