AFC U-22 C'ship: Stern Iraqi test awaits India

AFC U-22Muscat: Mirror! That’s what Head Coach Arthur Papas asks the boys to look at. “After a match stand in front of the mirror and you will understand by yourself whether if you have given 100 percent or not. If you have, I will come and shake hands with you. Irrespective of whether we win or lose,” he says in one breath.

Reflection! That’s what India’s U-22 boys stay concerned about. Not because they stay desperate to shake hands with Papas after the final whistle but for their inner conscience. Dishonesty is unbearable. The mirror never lies!

Confront! “On the field, it’s 11 vs 11. In situations it’s one against one. Win that battle,” Papas presses. “Break through and fight.”

There’s love for the man all around. The boys just love Papas. Within a span of three weeks, Papas has been able to turn around a batch to try to play a different style; a style unheard and unseen of in India. Most had felt the style never suited India. And mind you, Papas knew none of the boys prior to taking up the assignment.

Lalrindika Ralte certifies: “We stayed a bit skeptical about the style at the outset. But we are enjoying it at the moment. Jeje Lalpekhlua adds: “We are a confident lot now but we need to be a more complete lot.” Deepak Devrani feels: “Earlier by instinct we were different. Now, the instinct stays different.”

The Australian Coach, smiles. “We need to be cautious. Iraq are one of the strongest teams in Asia. It’s true we will take a lot of confidence from our match against Lebanon. But against Iraq, it will be a different match altogether,” he maintains. For the record, Iraq stay on 74 in the FIFA Rankings while India are 164.

Iraq were very much clinical in their display when they brushed aside Turmkenistan 4-0 in their first match of the Championship. “We will fight and try for a positive result. So far, the boys have shown excellent character,” Papas adds.

The beauty of this squad stays everyone stays willing to back each other. Against Lebanon, there were three who made their International Debut -- Shaiju Mon, Ganeshan and Alwyn George. Alwyn went on to score a brace while Shaiju and Ganeshan played with attitude.

There’s someone else who just can’t stop beaming – Jeje Lalpekhlua. It was his debut match after almost six months as an injury had kept him out. The last 30 minutes he was there on the field he seemed to be omnipresent. He stayed willing to come down to help his teammates, opened the space for Alwyn and Lalrindika in the midfield and significantly, converted the two chances he got.
“We are friends – all from the same age group. It helps. The Coach has had a specific plan for me and my responsibility is to execute it,” he opines.

The morning after, the support staff run all around. Players leave their play stations as the intercom rings. The massage table waits, so does the ice bath. All take it one by one. Papas keeps track of every minute detail.

Even as the team bus pierces the blur of brown rocks which form the rocky desert in the City, dessert stays taboo for all. “Relish your dessert and you won’t be able to relish yourself on the field,” has been Papas’ instruction. At the Dining Hall, the players pass by ignoring the sumptuous spread of desserts.

The Mirror, they know by now, never lies.

The kick-off against Iraq is at 7.45pm (IST: 9.15pm).


By Indian Sports News Network