By Stephen Constantine, Mar 23 2015 11:15AM
2007 was the last time India made it to the group stages of the World Cup Qualifiers and the Blue Tigers are back !!!
2007 was the last time India made it to the group stages of the World Cup Qualifiers and the Blue Tigers are back !!! After 8 years in the wilderness India can at least dream of the World Cup. How or why has it come to this is in the past what we do going forward is my main concern. The draw for the 12 worst teams in Asian was made and we were drawn against of all teams Nepal my old team. A home and away tie with the 1st leg in India. Guwahati was chosen as the venue for our home game and we began training in earnest on the 5th of March. I had a training camp of 5-6 days to prepare before the game not really long enough especially as I was working with the players for the first time. A list of 50 players were registered by the AIFF and along with my Assistant Coach Venky we reduced the list to 26 who then reported to camp in Guwahati.
Joining the team were Danny Deigan my Sports Science Coach and Ramos my Goalkeeping Coach we got, I must also mention the great job done by the entire backroom staff . Right from my Assistant Coach Venky (Venkatesh) to my physio Gigi George to Team Doctor Kiran (Kulkarni), equipment Manager Sanjay (Dhyani), Masseur Liaqat (Ali), Team Manager Srinivas, and Video Analyst Shanka everyone has made a contribution. Obviously the players need time to adjust to me and me to them but am delighted by the response from them and also from the staff there was a great atmosphere and I really enjoyed working with the players.
Going into the first game there was a great deal of pressure on the players and everyone connected with Indian football as if were to slip up and not qualify that would mean no competitive football for at least 2 years!! The 1st leg itself was one of initial hesitation and a question of the players getting to know the system and although we were in control for most of the 1st half we were not too convincing. We missed several chances early on but going into half time it was 0-0. At half time I just told the lads to relax and not to worry about the goal and that it would come, and it did Twice! Two strikes from Sunil Chetrri was enough to win the game after some great work from the team as a whole. Both goals were a result of determination and the pressure we put on Nepal in fact one of the goals was from a Nepal free kick outside our 18 yard box.Unfortunately we missed a penalty which would have made it 3-0 and given us that much more breathing space for the away leg. A recovery session was in order the day after the game which consisted of some light work for the starters followed by ice baths and then a flight to Nepal the following morning.
The second leg could not have been more different and it was as I expected with Nepal putting as much pressure as they could. The pitch was terrible as was the training ground we had used the day before the game and though I am not using that as an excuse it really was a very bad surface. We were under pressure for long periods of the game and were very fortunate that we did not concede anything early on. We had one or two opportunities ourselves and did enough overall to win the tie. As the game went on Nepal started to feel the pressure alot than us as they needed to score two goals to send it to extra time. After some difficult moments the sound of the referees whistle came giving us the qualification to the group stages and the opportunity to build for the future.There is a great deal to do before the first games in June but I know where I would rather be at this point in time. So a 2-0 win at home was enough to see us through and as we await the draw for the group stages we also wait to see how far we have moved up the FIFA rankings finally getting out of the worst ranking in our history.
I would also like to add a very important point, as I try to re build the team I had called up 11 new players to the squad 8 of whom made their international debuts and am very pleased with that. The message is play well for your clubs and you will get a chance, so I am sure there will be some more new faces as we go into the qualifiers.
It has been a very hectic time for me since arriving in India and after 2 months still have not had the time to look for a place to stay! Having said that I am loving every minute of it and really appreciate all the support I have been given by the AIFF and everyone in India.I have been travelling the very long length and breadth of the country looking at players, facilities as well as a host of other things. I am also trying to set up a scouting network that will cover all of India, and not just look at National tournaments as we are doing in the past. As you can imagine this is not an easy task but one I am determined to do in order for us to find more players. A work in progress that is for sure but taking the first step to do that is important and we have done that. In closing a special than you to all the Indian fans who are getting behind the National Team, together we can do great things.
……… Jai Hind