Cameroon test awaits holders India in Nehru Cup final
Story Dated: Saturday, September 1, 2012 21:35 hrs IST
New Delhi: Seeking to extend its stranglehold over the tournament, Indian football coach Wim Koevermans' blend of youth and experience is in for a real baptism of fire as it prepares to take on strong Cameroon in the final of the Nehru Cup here Sunday.
While two-time defending champions India are seeking to make it three in a row after triumphs in 2007 and 2009 under then coach Bob Houghton, 59th ranked Cameroon will be chasing a maiden title in their first appearance at the invitational tournament, which started way back in 1982.
In the precursor to the summit showdown Cameroon, despite making as many as eight changes to their regular starting XIs, showed glimpses of what they are capable of.
With their solitary-goal win in the last round-robin league encounter yesterday evening, the Africans sent out a message to the hosts that more is in store. And they will look to unleash those at the floodlit Jawaharlal Nehru one last time, against the 168th ranked side in the world.
India can take heart from the fact that they, too, rested as many as five regular players at the expense of a few talented rookies who, to their credit, did put up a fight after conceding an early goal.
That they did not allow Cameroon to make merry after the second-minute goof-up, while coming close to scoring on a few occasions themselves after the change of ends, should make the Indians feel at ease.
Up against strong Syrian sides in the last two editions, India came out triumphant in front of packed stands at the Ambedkar stadium. Having done that in the past, India would surely back themselves to do an encore one more time.
While there is no dearth of talent at Koevermans' disposal, the biggest motivation for the players is the Dutchman himself. Confidence is one word Koevermans repeats whenever asked about his opposition.
"I'm confident ahead of the final. I always stay positive so that the boys can be confident as well. You need to feel good ahead of a big match," Koevermans said.
The likes of skipper Sunil Chhetri, Subrata Paul, Raju Gaikwad, Nirmal Chhetri will come back to the XI, while making way will be young players such as Manandeep Singh, Gurwinder Singh and Karanjit Singh.
The senior pros' presence will surely be comforting.
The other night, Cameroon's greater physical presence made a lot of difference. In such a scenario, India will do well to stick to the tactic of playing the short passing game - play the ball along the ground.
Taking the aerial route against the well-built Africans will spell danger, and Koevermans and his wards know it too well.
Koevermans has brought in a sense of stability in the team, something that was missing since Houghton's departure after the 2011 Asian Cup debacle.
If India's 3-0 demolition of Maldives saw the best of possessional football in a flexible 4-4-1-1 formation, their 0-1 defeat to the Indomitable Lions brought to the fore their fighting spirit.
India are aware that Cameroon will bring back their star players of the tournament - Kingue Mpondo and Cologny Merime - who were rested for yesterday's match.
Besides, they have Ebanga Bertin, who have also netted on a few occasions. To counter their threats, India will have to raise their game, and the margin of error will be very little.
"Cameroon are a top side and there is no denying that. They are physically very strong and have a lot of pace in their ranks. They may be better equipped than us. But we are prepared as well. Playing against Cameroon in itself is a great achievement. It's a great exposure. We'll take back a lot," 52-year-old Koevermans said.