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Soccer team's SA tour is off

The prospects of the Indian football team meeting Pakistan on a neutral venue fizzled out when the four-nation tournament at South Africa, involving India, Pakistan, Namibia and the hosts, was abruptly cancelled on Thursday.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) secretary Alberto Colaco said that, in a fax message sent to the federation's Margao office, the organisers of the tournament, Sapphire Enterprise, confirmed the cancellation of the tour.

"The fax says the tour has been called off because of the inability of the South African federation to raise a team to play in the tournament," Colaco said. The message also explained that since the newly appointed coach of South Africa has named 30 probables for the World Cup finals, it has become virtually impossible for the federation to field the proposed second string line-up for the four-nation tourney.

The cancellation of the tour is yet another setback for the exposure starved Indian team, who have not played a match since the tour of England last summer. It was slated to participate in the SAF Games (Pakistan) and SAFF tournament (Dhaka), and Afro Asian Games but all the meets were cancelled for different reasons.

When asked whether the AIFF would demand compensation from the London-based Sapphire for the cancellation of the tour, Colaco said, "such things have to be discussed in the AIFF meeting before reaching any decision."

While the AIFF secretary refused to be drawn into any speculations beyond giving the official reasons behind calling off the tour, sources felt there could be more to the issue than just what the organisers are saying.

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn had carried a news almost a month ago that talked about the cancellation of the tour. The report quoted Pakistan football officials saying the Indian Government had refused permission to its national team to play the neighbours.

The AIFF had then scotched the rumours saying it was yet to go to the Government to seek permission for the tour.

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