AFC Qualifier: First match very crucial, says coach

First match against Lebanon very critical: Arthur PapasMuscat: India's under-22 head coach Arthur Papas said that their first match against Lebanon Saturday will be critical as it will lay the foundations of whether the team would qualify for the final round of the AFC Championship.

"It is our first match of the Championship and is a critical one. A good start can provide us the optimism to look at qualification," he said.

Papas has set a strict routine for the youngsters; if you are late for the meals, you are 'punished.' The punishment ranges from having intense extra sprints in practice to singing a song prior to lunch or dinner.

After checking into the Muscat Hotel Thursday, a few footballers arrived a bit late for lunch. They had to sing the national anthem "Jana Gana Mana".

"This is very necessary. There's unity in the team. We need to push ourselves to be on time and perfect for everything. Football is all about that," midfielder Lalrindika Ralte said.

On the field, Papas has been stressing on a new style of play - a style which emphasises on keeping possession of the ball.

"The practice sessions are fun," proclaims Ralte. "We are enjoying it. Everyone is enjoying it."

Lebanon challenge India in their first match. Iraq, UAE, Turkmenistan and Oman follow.

"We stay on a threshold," said captain Jeje Lalpekhlua.

"We have adjusted to a new style, it's a new bunch and we have a new Coach at the helm. There's a more definite approach at the moment," he adds. "I've recovered fully and am fit at the moment." (IANS)