The boys dressed up, put on their goggles and moved out. After a morning recovery session, Tuesday was an off day for them. Papas felt they ought to get out of the routine and feel fresh; hence casuals were allowed at the Lunch table.
Alwyn George who rushed for Lunch straight from the massage table didn’t get enough time to get himself out from his India Track Suit. Being the last entrant into the Dining Hall, an applause greeted him. By the time he recovered, poor Alwyn had to sing.
“O Chak de Mundiya…” the smart Alwyn hummed. “Louder,” Papas said in a jocular tone. The boys played the drum beats on the table. The gathered guests turned around, appreciated and clapped. Alwyn blushed. From the support staff, physio Kazi Juyef Islam was handpicked by the players. But he was smarter – he sang two. A Rabindrasangeet was followed by a Bollywood melody.
By Dinner, the boys had got back their focus. Ranked 119 in the FIFA ladder and more importantly, a team which has qualified for the forthcoming London Olympics, United Arab Emirates stay the next challenge.
UAE Coach Baler Sadih says: “We have quite a few options up our sleeve. We look forward to the match.” UAE had been unstoppable so far. In the first match, they beat hosts Oman 2-0 while in the second they accounted for Turkmenistan 1-0.
Ask Arthur Papas and he admits: “This is a defining match in the tournament. We need to maintain our consistency. We have had two very good games so far. Though the results have been different, there are so many positives which have emerged.”
“The boys have shown character and at this level you have to play with the same intensity every day,” he adds. “UAE are a very tough opposition. I reiterate one shouldn’t be expecting miracles. Everyone needs to be patient.”
Early morning, the buzz is back. There’s an intense Core Training Session in the gym. After breakfast, players line up for their treatment and massage. In between the Hotel staff, most of them Indians come over to inform the ice is waiting. The ice-bath will happen after the evening training session.
Someone who scored against the UAE Senior Team in the World Cup Qualifiers – Captain Jeje Lalpekhlua is ready to go. “I still remember Dika’s (Lalrindika Ralte) cross which was inch perfect. I just had to nod it in,” Jeje says. Dika, smiles. “The turf was slushy was maintaining balance was difficult. There’s a sort of telepathy between Jeje and me,” he quips.
You just can’t keep Manandeep Singh quiet. Sitting next, he plays his one-two. “So on a lush field in Muscat, you will provide us five such centres!” a mischievous Manandeep presses. Jeje adds in a tone of surprise: Five? We wait for 10 such crosses.” The laughter goes all around. Dika stands up, walks to his boots, touches them, comes and sits back.
“In International Matches, more often than not, the details decide the fate,” Papas comments. “Minute details such as set pieces, corners, etc. We need to be perfect.”
In the meantime, the phone just doesn’t stop ringing. Indians, all based in Muscat, want to meet the team — Diplomats, Bankers, Executives, Journalists. Requests for tickets flow in.
An UAE supporter, here in Muscat for official work, stayed confident: “Against India we will score minimum five goals,” he says and laughs loud. None from the Indian Camp retaliates.
The kick-off at the Royal Oman Police Stadium is at IST 9.15pm (7.45 local time) on Thursday, June 28.
(AIFF Press Release / Written by Nilanjan Datta)