A great win to start off the year winning the SAFF Championship 2015 although we actually won the final game in 2016!! Beating Afghanistan 2-1 in extra time.
I am really am delighted for the players, staff and fans who were amazing this win was particularly special for a number of reasons, I am the only foreign coach to win the SAFF with India, we won all four of our games in the SAFF, the average age of the team was 23, and we won it without several key players. The 45,000 fans were amazing and must give themselves a huge pat on the back as without their support I am not sure if we would have won it.
Looking back in early December I had decided that we would select a mixed group of players that came from all corners of the country and from different levels of the game.Players were chosen from State leagues, Academies, 2nd division, as well some players who were not selected for the ISL. I can’t praise enough the work of the scouts and in particular Abhishek Yadav who I had appointed as National Director of Scouting when I arrived in January last year and he really has taken things forward. My philosophy in this is simple we need eyes and ears everywhere and we should be constantly looking out for talent at all ages, in all competitions and all across the nation, our motto is if it moves scout it ! So obviously I am delighted that we had 2 army lads involved, an 18 year old kid who was a direct result from my attending the AIFF U19 league, and several others that joined the SAFF camp.
I don’t think going into the competition anyone thought we would get out of the group stage let alone win it! On top of the playing issues we also had all sorts of problems from the organizational side of things, the hotels didn’t have enough rooms, the team buses were often late, no training pitches available and well you get the picture. All I will say is, it was a joke and SAFF really need to sort this out once and for all 7 teams in one venue with 2 unplayable training pitches !
Our first game was against Sri Lanka and we really did get off to a flying start winning 2-0 in a game that we really should have won by 4-5 , the Sri Lankan keeper was my man of the match. Overall I was pleased we created so many chances and we were not made to pay for missing most of them!
Our second game with Nepal proved to be a little easier than I had expected, as in the previous 3 games we had played against them we had scored twice, won only the one game and drawing the other two games 0-0. It is hard sometimes getting players to understand that they need to win their individual battles first before the team begins to function as a team. Nepal taking the lead after 3 minutes was the wakeup call we needed and after that it was pretty much one way traffic. We had made a number of changes knowing we would have to lose by 4 goals or something like that not to make the semi final, the lads who came in responded well. Rowllin Borgess , Zuala are but two of these youngsters who made an impression and am looking forward to seeing them develop further in the coming weeks and months ahead. We ended up winning the game 4-1 against Nepal in a game that will be remembered for the two stunning goals by Zuala. While most people will look at the goals for me the pass for the second goal (his header) was absolutely stunning. Rowllin Borgess picked the ball up in midfield took a couple of strides had a quick look up before delivering a pass that took out 5 Nepali defenders. Zuala who had started to make his run inside timed it beautifully and headed it over the keeper for what was the goal of the competition for me.
Afghanistan were always the hot favorites for everyone to win this SAFF tournament as their experience and quality was there for all to see. Holders of the previous SAFF in 2013 where they had beaten India 2-0, plus 15 of the current squad are playing in Europe obviously gave them a huge advantage. They did not however take into consideration the tenacity or the fitness levels of our young players. This brings me to into the why we need more time with the players in our training camps, as what is required in an International game at any level far surpasses what is happening in our domestic game. To give you an example a team in the ISL trained and played a 90 min game over 5 days, all of this work combined did not equal a single International game!! In other words the fitness levels in the ISL do not compare with what we need at the International level so we are at a huge disadvantage when we don’t get the players. I would say that during the course of the game we in fact were the team that had the most opportunities to score. We hit the post, the crossbar and had several clear chances to score first but as always you get punished when you don’t take advantage. Afghanistan in the 69th minute on a break away from the halfway line took the lead and for a moment things looked like they would go Afghanistan’s way. Fortunately for us we were level within 3 minutes and it was India calling the shots , Extra time came and we didn’t change a thing, why should we the 11 that started were doing well we were having lots of the ball and the lads didn’t look tired. It was in the 97th minute when we made our first change. Our second goal came as a result of a mix up in the Afghans defense and Sunil Chhetri punished them this time slotting the ball home with 15 minutes or so of extra time left.
We managed to see the game out and could have scored a few more as the Afghans went all out to get the equalizer. I cannot describe the feeling when on hearing that final whistle I am really proud of the players and of course Happy for everyone at the AIFF. It is a great lift to everyone involved in Indian football and I must say a special thank you to all the coaching and support staff they have been amazing throughout.
In closing I would also like to say a special thank you to all the Indian fans who have supported us through thick and thin !! We had fans travel from all over the country to support us and it means a great deal to me and the players.
So we are THE CHAMPIONS …………JAI HIND
View video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6woYeSKsAc&feature=youtu.be