Indian players during a practice session, on Saturday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi: On the verge of hattrick in the Nehru Cup, India will have a mountain to climb against Cameroon to realise their dream at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday.
While the hosts had displayed enough spirit throughout the tournament and will certainly enjoy the advantage of having the crowd support behind them, Cameroon will still start favourites because of their superior skill and physical strength.
Cameroon have brought a bunch of professionals, who have clearly proved themselves as the best combination in the meet. The Africans, ranked 59 in the Fifa list, have improved with every match and looked comfortable even without their eight first team players during the 1-0 win over India.
Well aware of the situation, chief coach Wim Koevermans is now relying greatly on the courage and determination of his players. Their limited skills and relative inexperience notwithstanding, Indians have shown guts and strength of mind in all four matches so far.
“We know their strength and we are fully prepared,” Koevermans said when asked whether his team will start as underdogs. “The west African teams are skilful and physically strong. They love to play attacking football with a playmaking thrust. But, we have a good chance of winning,” the coach said.
Koevermans said he was optimistic about his team’s chances, especially after the way India played against Cameroon on Friday. “Our defence looked dependable and did not allow much room to the opponents. We also had some opportunities… All we need is to finish,” he commented.
“They are ranked 59th in the world but the way our boys played against them was laudable. The bench is at par with the starting eleven and that’s a very good sign for the future,” said the coach.
The reality, however, could be different. While India will be largely dependent on their captain and striker Sunil Chetri to break the rival resistance, Cameroon have several players capable of rattling the Indian defence at any point.
Kingue Mpondo, who plays for Cotonsport FC, is one such footballer. While his work rate and distribution of the ball are impressive, so is his scoring ability. Having already struck three goals in three matches, Mpondo will be a constant threat to the Indian defence. Along with him will be Ebanga Bertin and Thierry Makon, both of whom can play accurate passes and initiate quick attacks from the midfield.
India, on the other hand, are likely to field the same team that did duty in the first two matches. While Denzil Franco will make way for a fit Nirmal Chetri in the wing back position, Sanju Pradhan is set to be the coach’s first choice ahead of Anthony Pereira in the right of midfield. Among others, defender Syed Rahim Nabi is enjoying a great run in the tournament but Mehtab Hossain’s role as a holding midfielder needs to be sharper against the quick tackling defenders of Cameroon.
A lot will also depend on goalkeeper Subrata Paul. He had come to India’s rescue several times in the past few years and proved himself one of the best in the continent. In Sunday’s final, Paul’s performance under the bar could be the crucial factor in determining the fate of the tie.
Final: India vs Cameroon from 7 pm