Argentina beats Venezuela in India's first friendly

Lionel Messi during the friendly in Calcutta Lionel Messi orchestrated most of Argentina's attacks during the friendly

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India has hosted its first-ever international football friendly with Argentina beating Venezuela one-nil in the eastern city of Calcutta.

The match featured Argentine star and World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.

It was watched by more than 120,000 spectators who roared every time the Argentine captain showed his skills.

Organisers hope the match - at a city stadium - will inspire more Indians to play the game. India is ranked 158 of the 203 football-playing countries.

The BBC's Rahul Tandon in Calcutta - India's football capital - says that the city has been gripped by Messi mania ever since the Argentine team arrived in Calcutta early on Wednesday.

"The god of football is in town, it's almost surreal," Malay Banerjee, a software professional, told the AFP news agency.


"My father, myself and my son are all Argentina fans. For us it is a dream come true to have the team play in our own backyard."

Office worker Rohini Biswas said she had been "barely able to sleep for the last two nights" in anticipation of the game.

"I never thought I will get a chance to see [Messi] play at one of our stadiums."

However, critics say games like this do little to help spreading the popularity of football in India.

"A match like this really doesn't do anything to India as a football country simply because by showcasing top football brands, you don't really improve your football. That's something you need to do on your own," leading football writer Dhiman Sarkar told the BBC.

Football has been played and followed here for almost 200 years. The televising of the Mexico World Cup in 1986 made Maradona a hero and created a generation of Argentina fans.

An Indian company, Venky's, now owns the Premiership club Blackburn Rovers. Liverpool are setting up an academy in Delhi and Manchester United Chief Executive David Gill has spoken openly about his team's desire to crack the Indian market.

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