It’s not that threatening but the last couple of days have seen clouds hover over Thiruvananthapuram. It’s a bit cloudy and the next moment, bright sunny.
Two years back, the line-up for the semifinal in Kathmandu stayed the same – India vs Maldives. India had won 1-0 then, courtesy an Arnab Mondal volley.
“That was then, this is now,” Mondal insists. “In today’s football every match is difficult. The teams study each other so much. So you ought to do the extra bit to topple the rivals. That pertains to all levels of football. Even Maldives will aim at that; and we will aim at that too,” he says at the team hotel lobby.
You remember that strike? You quiz.
Arnab reiterates: “That was then, some two years back. Tomorrow is a new day. I don’t think the strike is any more significant.”
Pritam Kotal, nicknamed ‘PK’ by his teammates, complements Mondal. “You have to work hard and play like as if it’s your last match. This is the ideology of the Coach and we have played every match based on this ideology,” he states.
At the official pre-match Media Interaction National Coach Stephen Constantine said, “We are looking forward to a difficult game against Maldives as they are a good side. Not only are Maldives highly organized, they are good in the attacking department too.”
Reflecting upon his squad, Constantine opined: “The 19 players we have now have all performed brilliantly. Although our preparations were hampered by Robin’s injury, which is a big blow for us, life goes on. But it also gives the opportunity to the other players to fill into his shoes.”
Constantine further added: “The SAFF competition also gives us the opportunity to play youngster against similar opponents, paving a way for them to evolve in a competitive environment.”
The British coach has given debuts to two players in Lallianzuala, who scored a brace against Nepal, and 22 year old defender Koushik Sarkar, in the SAFF Cup Championship thus far. In his eleven matches so far, he has fielded 22 debutants, ie an average of two per match.
“It is always great to see a young player make his debut – be it for club or his country. But the question is how do we look after the player off the pitch?” he inquired. “If we want them to be the star that they are capable of, we need to give them time and space. We need to look after them, nurture them, and not exploit them,” he says in one breath.
Meanwhile, Kotal admits: “Although Maldives will be a tricky fixture, we will try to play our game. We need to follow the coach’s plan. They are a good attacking side and we need to maintain our shape. We will give our cent percent on the pitch.”
“Coach (Constantine) is giving a chance to the young players from all across the nation, which is good for the overall growth of Indian football.”
As 2015 comes to an end, all wait to embrace a new 2016. ‘Happy New Year,’ the most widely used term all over the World among all festive occasions, has been decorately lit up all over the city and in the team hotel too. Team India “aims” to make the transition into the New Year as smooth as possible.
But as coach insisted, “it will be tricky.”
The kick-off is at 15.30 IST and the match will be telecast live on Star Sports.
(Report & Photo courtesy AIFF Media)