Calcutta: As Debjit Ghosh and the back four faltered in clearing a ball during the final practice session on Tuesday morning ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Japan, coach Stephen Constantine rushed in, trying hard to demonstrate what was going wrong.
The troops nodded in agreement and got back into act again as Constantine watched the proceedings move on — toddling, tumbling and then turning on to set things in order.
About two hundred yards away, it was a scene of complete leisure in the enemy camp. The Shinji Onos, who landed after midnight on Monday, were exchanging pleasantries with accompanying mediamen. There were also queries about temples in Calcutta and how far Tibet was from the team hotel!
The pictures were vastly misleading, if not unclear, however. One team is taking an orderly route to heal the wounds of a 0-7 defeat, while the other is cherishing the moment before setting the battlefield afire.
It appears to be gunboat diplomacy from Zico’s Japan as India, humbled and humiliated in the land of sunrise in June, got a little taste of it when the Brazilian led his troops to the Salt Lake Stadium in the evening.
Watching a superpower train creates an odd feeling of dread. The fearsome intensity with which they dashed about — so reminiscent of their coach’s native land — was simply educative, but Zico clearly played his cards close to his chest.
But Ono later said — taking reality into account, of course — another 7-0 demolition might not be repeated. “It has been a long trip, almost 12 hours, from Japan. The weather is also quite hot. So even if we win big, it won’t be the same result,” the midfielder, who plays for Feyenoord, said.
Zico, however, was diplomatic. “We’ll be definitely aiming for victory on Wednesday. But I respect all opponents and take nothing for granted. Football is such a game where you can’t throw away respect. Take, for example, Greece’s achievement in the Euro Cup. They lost a match in the qualifying round and nobody thought of them being anywhere near a champion potential. What they did is history,” Zico said through AIFF secretary Alberto Colaco, who liased as interpreter.
Taking a leaf from his opposite’s book, Constantine stretched the subject further: “The beauty of football is that it’s full of surprises and anything can happen. If Japan have a bad day and we have a good day, who can say…I believe in miracles. As a coach I know the axes are not far away. It could be (coming down on me) tomorrow, Thursday or Friday”, he maintained.
However, his task of pulling off a surprise — even an iota of it — is getting harder with news coming in from the camp that Rennedy Singh, who injured himself during Monday’s practice, might not be match-fit. The player didn’t attend the morning practice.
“We expect him to be fit before the match,” Constantine later said. He also said absence of Bhaichung Bhutia, another casualty, would be felt against the Japanese. Constantine’s lament is understandable, given the fact that Zico praised “quick” Bhaichung’s performance in Saitama.
“The scoreline (0-7) might have given a bad impression for India, but I was impressed with the performance of some Indians. I would like to mention Bhutia. He was very quick,” Zico said. “But I am told that he will not play tomorrow as he is injured,” he added.
With all odds stacked heavily against him, Constantine may be tempted to string a three-man army across the midfield with the back four stationed a little deep behind them. Captain Debjit could operate as a sweeper and Sangram Mukherjee may be spared the chance of conceding another goal-rush, making his way to Sandip Nandy.
Gourmangi Singh, meanwhile, was trimmed from the squad to make it XVIII.
India: Sandip Nandy; Debjit Ghosh, Sameer Naik, Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Covan Lawrence/Habibur Rahman Mondal; Climax Lawrence, S. Venkatesh, Tomba Singh, Jatin Bist; Abhishek Yadav.
Japan: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi; Yuji Nakazawa, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Mokato Tanaka, Koji Nakata, Masashi Motoyama, Shinji Ono, Takashi Fukunishi, Alessandro Santos; Naohiro Takahara, Takayuki Suzuki.