In-form India look to assure final berth
Story Dated: Monday, August 27, 2012 20:9 hrs IST
India’s Sunil Chhetri celebrates after scoring a gaol against Syria during the Nehru Cup International Football Tournament 2012, in New Delhi on Wednesday.
New Delhi: Closing in on a final berth after a couple of convincing wins, the Indian football team will have to guard against complacency when it takes on tournament whipping boys Nepal in the Nehru Cup here Tuesday.
Under the tutelage of Wim Koevermans, India recorded easy wins over Syria (2-1) and Maldives, who were thrashed 3-0 at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.
A win against Nepal will certainly ensure their passage to the final of a tournament they have triumphed in the last two editions, in 2007, when it was revived after a long hiatus, and in 2009, under the then coach Bob Houghton.
The same can't be said about the Himalayan nation who was battered by Cameroon (0-5) last night, two days after suffering a 1-2 defeat to Maldives.
Another acid test awaits the Nepalese as they run into an in-form team, led admirably by Portugal-returned striker Sunil Chhetri who has already found the net three times, including his double strike against Maldives.
What will make Nepal's job tougher will be the likes of Syed Rahim Nabi, Clifford Miranda, Anthony Pereira and Gouramangi Singh who looked in good touch in the preceding matches.
Another positive for the two-time defending champions is that goalkeeper Subrata Paul has not been breached even once, and he will look to keep the slate clean against the minnows, who though, are ranked above India in the current FIFA rankings.
Despite the feel good factor in the Indian camp after the two wins, the players have their feet firmly on the ground.
They are confident, but not over confident.
"There's no point in thinking about future matches. We face Nepal in the next match and a win will take us to the final. It's perhaps, the most important match for us," Nabi, who had a great game against Maldives, said.
The others also think alike, including Dutchman Koevermans.
"You say it, I don't," he said when asked if his team was already in the final, in the post-match press conference the other day.
"Don't quote me. I haven't said it. No, we are not yet in the final," he added.
The coach's, as well as his wards, feel that "step by step, match by match" is the way to go.
Considering the scenario, it will be interesting to see if Koevermans prefers to experiment with his team tomorrow, maybe by giving younger players like Alwyn George an opportunity.
His decision to go with the same combination, that played in the tournament opener against Syria, paid dividends in the team's next match, but one can't rule out the possibility of having at least one different player Tuesday.
It also remains to be seen if Nirmal Chhetri is fielded, two days after taking a blow on his shin.
For Nepal coach Krishna Thapa, he, at the start of the tournament, wouldn't have hoped of finding his team in this sort of situation.
But he is confident of staging a fightback, nevertheless. "The level of their (India's) performance is going up with every match. Against Maldives, India were too good. But that doesn't mean Nepal can't beat India. In fact, both the teams are of the same standard," Thapa said.