It takes two teams to play a football match. But Friday’s international friendly game seems so Argentina-centric that Venezuela has virtually been overshadowed by the star power of the Messi-led side.
The security arrangements and media craze mirror the difference in stature of the two teams who are playing the first ever FIFA Official International Friendly in the subcontinent. Two-time World Cup champions Argentina are ninth in FIFA rankings, 35 places ahead of Venezuela, who are yet to advance beyond the qualifiers for the big event.
The two teams have been put up in different hotels by the organisers. The presence of superstars like Messi has prompted the match promoters to put up the Argentines at a stone’s throw from the match venue, Salt Lake stadium.
“This was done to reduce the team’s journey time to and from the ground,” said a senior West Bengal police officer.
The Venezuelans’ hotel is about five-six kilometres from the stadium.
While outdoor broadcasting vans, television cameras and photographers are always present in strength in the periphery of the Argentine team hotel, the media seems to have given the Venezuelan hotel a skip.
The level of security in and around the Hyatt Regency housing the Argentines befits that made for senior government functionaries in India. Metal detectors, commandos, Rapid Action Force personnel and armed policemen are present in strength round the clock to guard Messi and his teammates. In contrast, security appears to be thin around ITC Sonar hosting the Venezuelans.
Not willing to take any chance in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror blasts in May, the administration has decided to deploy over 5,000 policemen to provide three-layered security on match day. State armed police would form the outer ring of security, with police in combat gear and the Railway Protection Force entrusted with the task of managing the crowd. Crack commando units would be on duty on the ground and escort the teams.
But for the Venezuelans, the arrangements seem relatively ordinary. While the Argentines were brought to the city from airport in a Royal Cruiser bus, their rivals had to board the shade inferior Royal Express. The air-conditioning machine in the Venezuelan team bus conked off while transferring a group of footballers from the airport. On one occasion, pilot vehicles were also not provided to them.