Bhaichung XI to clash with Santos FC on March 9

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Gangtok, Mar 3 (UNI) Six India team players and other waiting on the sidelines, led by their captain Bhaichung Bhutia, will lock horns with a youthful South African side in an exhibition football match here at the Paljor Stadium on March 9.

Players in this South African team, Cape Town FC, are in the preparatory team of the national side for the 2010 World Cup, being hosted by South Africa, Sikkim Football Association(SFA) sources said.

The football fest will also be a first for Bhaichung Bhutia in Sikkim in a decade.

''We have organized this match to felicitate Sikkim boy Bhaichung Bhutia for having bagged the Padmashri award this year,'' SFA general secretary Menla Ethanpa told UNI. The Indian football team captain will be felicitated by the SFA during the intervals of the match.

Ethanpa, who returned from Kolkata yesterday after making the necessary arrangements, told UNI that Santos FC, the Cape Town based football club, had their confirmed participation and will reach Gangtok on March 8. On the visiting side, the seniormost player is 24 years old. The rest are around 18-20 years, he added.

The Santos FC team is already in India and is playing in the IFA Shield tournament.

It will give football lovers of the state a chance to watch their beloved Bhaichung play at the ultra modern Paljor stadium after it was renovated a couple of years back. The home crowd had been waiting for a chance to watch him dribble since the clubs he has been playing have stayed away from the Governor's Gold Cup for almost a decade due to clashes in dates with national tournaments and other circumstances.

Apart from Bhaichung, Sunil Chettri (the Indian footballer of the year), Jose Ramirez Barreto, Reneddy Singh and Gurmeet Singh are also expected to play for Bhaichung XI at the star studded game.

SFA is also raking up Nepal football to rope in reputed players to make up the Bhaichung XI.

''Efforts are also on to bring in Sikkim players who are playing outside the state like O T Lepcha (former captain of the under-21 Indian football team), Nirmal Chettri and Sanju Pradhan (both regulars of AIR India Mumbai) and those playing for the Indian Army to form the Bhaichung XI,'' said Mr Ethanpa.

Plans are afoot to give a grand reception to the teams starting from the Bagdogra airport and at the border town of Rangpo, Singtam where the local people would also give a reception to the home star and his team.

Bhaichung's home club, the United Sikkim Sporting club(USSC) will also organize the reception along with the SFA. Bhaichung is the chief patron of the USSC.

UNI BG PL AB KN1750

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