He lay motionless after having scored Dempo’s second goal. He was through on goal, past the last defender and had poked the ball past Subrata Paul, the Mohun Bagan custodian.
As he flicked the ball with his right boot into the goal, Paul charged out and clattered into Cristiano Sebastiao de Lima Junior with his left fist. It was an unwarranted off-the-ball challenge and the 25-year-old Brazilian lay sprawled on the ground.
It was the final of the 2004 Federation Cup, India’s premier cup competition, and Dempo were leading 2-0 but all thoughts of the game were temporarily forgotten as the young Brazilian striker did not budge. He staggered, collapsed and was taken to the sideline, as multiple officials tried to revive him.
Many players from both sides refused to believe what was going on and collapsed to their knees, some holding their hands up to the skies. Neither team had a doctor of their own present at the ground, as mandated by the All India Football Federation.
The Bangalore District Football Association, one of the organisers, had only asked for physiotherapists and an ambulance, Hosmat Hospital’s Director and Chief of Orthopaedics Dr Thomas A Chandy would confirm later.
The reason? The BDFA’s Secretary B T Bhoopal had told the hospital that they couldn’t afford to the Rs 1,000 rupees that would have to be paid for a doctor per match. The hospital’s two physiotherapists Mathew Abraham and Aditya Lobo were not allowed onto the pitch without the referee’s permission. The match official gave the green light seven minutes after the fall, assuming that there was a celebration going on.
Cristiano was finally taken to Hosmat Hospital in the ambulance, where he was declared dead on arrival. Autopsy reports indicated that he had died of a heart attack caused by the collision and the hyper-excited state he was in while scoring the goal.
The All India Football Federation, which received heavy criticism for its failure to transport the player to a hospital on time, said in the aftermath that it would co-operate with Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation for further inquiries. However, the Indian governing body but failed to punish both the clubs for flouting its norm of not having a doctor present at the venue.
The AIFF’s president at the time, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, had said, “We are going to send the final report of the autopsy to Fifa and the Asian Federation and, if they wish to carry out further investigations, we will do it.”
The referee had not booked Subrata Paul at that point, but disciplinary proceedings were opened later against him. A few players had complained about his aggressive style in the Durand Cup final between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
The chairman of the disciplinary committee, Hardev Jadeja, handed Paul a two-month suspension and stated, “We want to set a precedent for the future.” Paul, known as the ‘Indian Spiderman’, has 64 national team caps to his name at the moment.
Cristiano Junior had set the league on fire when he had signed for East Bengal in 2003. He was the National Football League’s top scorer in his debut season in India, scoring 15 goals in 18 games. His lethal partnership with Bhaichung Bhutia saw the Red and Golds win the league title, their last to date.
He moved to Dempo, becoming the highest-paid footballer in the country. The Goan club, under the stewardship of Armando Colaco, would go on to win their maiden league title in the 2005 season. They retired the number 10 jersey in memory of Cristiano Junior.