New Delhi: The Indian football is passing through rare phase these days. With two consecutive wins under their belt in the Nehru Cup so far, the hosts have not only earned points but also the respect of the rivals. And this is something unheard of in Indian football in recent times.
On Tuesday, India will play Nepal and a victory will virtually ensure their place in the final with nine points. On the eve of the tie, even the Nepal coach Krishna Thapa sounded reverent about the home team.
“This Indian side is a stronger one than the one played in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu earlier this year. There are many young players in the side and they are physically strong. The players look to be sharper. Upfront, Sunil Chetri also looks more aggressive,” said Thapa.
“The level of their performance is going up with every match. Against Maldives, India were too good. But that doesn’t mean Nepal can’t beat India,” he quipped further.
Thapa’s assessment of his own team is somewhat exaggerated. Having lost two matches on the trot, Nepal are virtually out of the tournament and look the most under-prepared side. Against Cameroon, the Nepal side displayed signs of unconditional surrender. Asked, Thapa sounded apologetic. “We could get only 10 days to prepare for the Nehru Cup,” he said.
Though the All India Football Federation (AIFF) should remain thankful to All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) for accepting their last-minute invitation after Jordan and Kenya pulled out, the India-Nepal match is hardly expected to be an even contest. Barring a few occasions, Nepal could rarely trouble India in the past and Tuesday’s tie should not be an exception.
Nepal’s only notable victory against India came 19 years ago in the SAF Games final at Dhaka. India were tamed in tie-breaker. Thereafter, India held the upper hand at the senior level. In 2009 SAFF Cup in Dhaka, Sukhwinder Singh’s under-23 India got the better of Nepal senior team by a Jeebon Singh goal.
India coach Wim Koevermans, however, is not ready to take any chance. He wants his boys to go all out for a win as they did against Syria and Maldives. India are likely to miss the services of the injured defender Nirmal Chetri.
“Adjustments,” Koevermans stressed in the team meeting. “You need to be flexible on the field. We have tried various systems so far. You always need to make those adjustments. I will always keep on asking it from you. All you need is to dominate and re-dominate,” said the Dutch coach.
So cautious is Koevermans that he is not even ready to accept that India are only a step away from reaching the final. “You say it, I don’t,” he smiled as everyone laughed. “Don’t quote me. I haven’t said it. No, we are not yet in the final,” he maintained.
The real battle, the coach is aware, would be against Cameroon in the last round robin match on Friday. In all likelihood, it would be a dress rehearsal for the final as the two teams are expected to top the group.
The most impressive team in the tournament so far, Cameroon have shown the glimpses of their skills against Nepal on Sunday. Solid with their basics, the Africans gave a vastly improved display in their second match.
Today’s match: India vs Nepal (7pm).