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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
A whole new ball game
The Jamaican team line up at France 98
Jamaica were everybody's second team at France 98

Ask someone if they fancy watching Jamaica play India, and the chances are they will immediately conjure up images of Sabina Park baking under a blazing sun.

But the sporting showdowns between Jamaica and India are poised to take on a different dimension in two matches over the next few days.

The fixtures are taking place in England - at Watford's Vicarage Road ground and Wolves' Molineux stadium.

Sachin Tendulkar in action for India during summer 2002
Tendulkar is India's most famous sportsman

And they are not in the more traditional sport of cricket, but football.

Thursday's game will be the first time the two countries have ever met on the football pitch, and the Indians will go into the match as underdogs.

The two countries may be better known for their cricketing prowess, but the Reggae Boyz captivated the football world's imagination when they burst on to the international scene at France 98.

The Caribbean team failed to make it past the group stage, but their unique brand of flowing football and enthusiastic fans put the country firmly on the footballing map, and they are now ranked 57th in the world.

Whereas Jamaica illuminated France 98, India's main contribution to World Cup history was to pull out of the 1950 tournament because they were not allowed to play in bare feet.

I'm sure the players are going to learn from this
India captain
Baichung Bhutia

The second most populous country in the world, with one billion inhabitants, is obsessed with cricket.

Sachin Tendulkar is seen almost as a deity by his adoring fans while captain Sourav Ganguly has a considerably higher profile than his footballing counterpart Baichung Bhutia.

Bhutia, who was the first player from the Asian sub-continent to play professionally in England, was released by Bury at the end of last season.

And he knows that his country, who are ranked a lowly 130th by Fifa, face a tough task against the Reggae Boyz.

"Playing against a team like Jamaica, who are physically stronger and more experienced and are a good team too, will always help a young team like us," he said.

Baichung Bhutia takes on Bangladesh during 2001
Bhutia has played professionally in England
"I'm sure the players are going to learn from this. It will give them more experience, and maybe more confidence and self-belief."

Bhutia's Jamaican counterpart, Aaron Lawrence, was part of Jamaica's France 98 campaign, when many of the players were raised in England.

The current Jamaican squad is selected from players who live in Jamaica, and Lawrence believes that the two matches will be a useful education for his squad as well.

"It will be an experience for us to come and play against India," he said. "It doesn't matter what team you play against, it is still a wonderful experience to come over here and play.

"It will be a stepping stone for us. We just have to go out there and play our best."

Both countries have some way to go before they produce footballers who reach the same level as their other sporting heroes such as Tendulkar - the second highest Test century maker of all time - and Courtney Walsh - the leading wicket taker in Test history.

But both sides have improved immeasurably in the last few years and this week's encounters supply an opportunity to climb another couple of steps up the footballing ladder.

Jamaica v India, Thursday 29 August, Vicarage Road, 1830BST
Jamaica v India, Sunday 1 September, Molineux, 1600BST

BBC Sport's Joe Wilson
"A surreal football story"
See also:

24 Apr 02 | Bury
23 Jul 01 | Football
20 Jul 01 | Football
18 May 02 | Photo Galleries
18 May 02 | Nigeria
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