x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New Argentina coach Sabella aware of the pressure

The man who spurned Al Jazira starts his task of transforming Argentina with a friendly against Venezuela in India.

NEW DELHI // Alejandro Sabella, the new Argentina national coach, says he is feeling the weight of expectation to improve the team's performances, starting with this week's friendly against Venezuela in Kolkata.

Sabella, who was in line to coach the UAE champions Al Jazira before performing a U-turn when Sergio Batista resigned as Argentina coach, is taking charge for the first time in their friendly match in India.

"It is an extremely important match both for me and the team," Sabella said in an interview published in The Times of India today. "There are huge expectations from us back home and it is a big responsibility."

The game at the 100,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium on Friday will also mark Barcelona star Lionel Messi's first game as Argentina's captain.

"Messi is a world-class player and I am confident that he will do well for the national side," Sabela said about the striker, who is expected to join his team later today after starring in Barca's 5-0 win against Villarreal.

"We have a good team and if everyone is fit, we are confident of getting a favourable result," he added.

The game is being awaited with eagerness in the eastern city of Kolkata, which has hosted some high-profile games in the past.

Brazilian great Pele turned out for the US club Cosmos in a friendly against Kolkata club Mohan Bagan in 1977 while the German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn played for Bayern Munich against Bagan in 2008.

The game comes at a time when football administrators are hoping to give fresh impetus to the world's most popular game.

Last year, the All India Football Federation signed a 15-year, US$140 million (Dh514.2m) commercial deal with IMG-Reliance, which will market football in India at all levels.

India is seen as a growing market since the advent of satellite television and famous English teams like Liverpool and Manchester United are trying to create a base there by running coaching programmes and launching brand products.

Blackburn Rovers are also expected to play a rescheduled game in the western city of Pune later this year after their Indian owner, Venky's, were forced to cancel a game last month over security fears.

A Goa-based industrial group that runs the Dempo Club has also invested US$17m to buy a 34 per cent stake in the Danish club Midtjylland.