THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

India gear up for Singapore challenge

Indian national team

Sun, thunder and rain! Add Football to it. The weather in Singapore stays pleasant but unpredictable. It’s a welcome break from the humidity back home, lazy white puffs of cotton floating in the sky and the Sun preferring to play hide and seek all day. And when it hides, there are occasional thunders followed by an hour of drizzle.

However, there’s no hiding in the Team India meeting sessions. The video sessions stay analytical as much they stay interactive. Coach Wim Koevermans prefers to listen too as he lets the players speak. Mind you, he doesn’t dissect it always, rather he asks the players to do it.

Besides his height and wit, Koevermans’ enthusiasm and energy level is bound to strike you. The Man just can’t stay aloof and away from work! His energy level never drops! Every minute detail planned to perfection from much ahead, he stays the lungs of the squad, 24×7.

But is he a bit too demanding?

“He knows his priorities and what to ask. He was the right to do that. We need to follow his instructions on and off the field,” stopper Gouramangi Singh opines.

“Top Quality boys,” Koevermans instructs his wards at the practice session at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium. “Faster,” he shouts the very next moment. You gauge the increase in speed.

“Press,” follows. You see the momentum rising.

“Faster, faster…..quality,” he goes on. The boys carry on.

“I’ve played at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium earlier in the AFC Cup,” informs Mehtab Hossain. At that time, there were stands on all side.” You look around. At present, the stands stay on one side while the far side boasts of Villas, “USD 2 million Villas,” the Local Manager, Mr. Sukumar, a Police Officer, informs.

“We know we will have to play in front of a hostile crowd,” Gouramangi opines. “People may feel it’s hard to adjust to a new defensive partner within three days in the National Team. But we stay aware of the Coach’s philosophy. We have played together earlier too. Adjustment is never a problem,” the most capped player in the Indian National side at the moment, echoes.

“Come on boys. One more time,” you hear Koevermans’ voice in the background.

The players rush. Though all stay available for selection, Koevermans hasn’t yet picked his Final Playing XI.

It’s hard to make Anthony Pereira speak. Ask him, and he just smiles. “We need to play well. We need to stick to our plans. We stay confident but this is a different match,” he says in one breath.

His roommate, Francis Fernandes just can’t stop going gaga about the change in philosophy. “It’s a challenging one. Keeping the ball to yourself and getting it back at the earliest stays difficult. But I’m loving it,” he quips.

There’s no way you won’t fall in love with the City. Driving seems to be the easiest job – there’s no traffic and horns in the cars don’t seem to exist. The skyscrapers keep vigil on the cycle lanes where kids, ladies, elderly gentlemen and ladies ride the two wheelers. Cars stop to give them way even as the favourite pastime for people of all ages seem to be jogging. Needless, to say, there’s greenery all around.

“Run, run, run…” Koevermans’ stays in command.

There’s quite a few foreign players playing for the Singapore National Team. There are two Chinese based players, one Australian, one British, an African and two Serbian players.

Coach Radojko Avramovic informs: “There are people from all Nationalities staying in Singapore. They are locals who are citizens of Singapore.” Captain Baihakki Khaizan, sitting next, nods.

“India come into the match as a confident team after their performance in the Nehru Cup. Our primary plan will be to stop that man,” Avramovic points at Captain Sunil Chhetri. There’s laughter all around.

“Feel your marker, feel your marker, boys,” Koevermans’ practice session continues.

Lenny Rodrigues, with his long strides, plays one-two with Mehtab, passes to Clifford who passes to Francis and then Chhetri and so on. The ball rolls on as it enters the penalty box.

“Score, Abranches – score,” there’s excitement in Koevermans’ yell.

“That’s it,” Koevermans’ voice sounds satisfied as Abranches chips it into the net. “Have a Drink boys,” he instructs. The boys run for the water and run back again.

The kick-off on Tuesday (October 16) is at 19.45 local time (17.15 IST | 14.45 CET | 13.45 GMT).

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(AIFF Press Release | Written by Nilanjan Datta)