After India’s win in the first of two bilateral matches, that is to be played at Bengaluru, the national coach Wim Koevermans was less than enthused at the nature of the win, yet receptive of the fact the team are still improving as a unit.
Speaking at the post-match conference, the Dutch coach stated that he was looking forward to the Asian Games, in South Korea, and whilst he had implemented the best possible style of play for his team, he stressed there was plenty of scope for improvement.
“This was our sixth match in the preparation ahead of the Asian Games. So I was happy with the match against Pakistan as it was against good opposition. That’s what we learn from. I think in today’s game, Pakistan took over initially with good possession of the ball. Then I think we took control. There weren’t many chances although we created a few as the match progressed. Then we scored the goal right before half-time.
"The second half didn’t start as I had expected, with Pakistan having more of the ball but we held firm and grew into the game. We created a few chances and then we had the red card (Robin Singh). So we had to defend a 1-0 score-line against 11 men. So it was interesting for me to see as to how the boys were coping with that and in genera,l I think they did quite well. Pakistan did have a few chances, I think they hit the crossbar, and they had two crosses that were nearly goals. So overall it was good for us to learn how to play 10 versus 11 . From what I saw even in the four minutes of time added on, we wanted to go forward. It is an afforded luxury when you’re 1-0 up and you can go forward, however, it was not our aim as we might get hit on the counter after our players get out of position. I think it was a good lesson for us and I hope we get to play 11 versus eleven next time around.
“I think we were the better side for the majority game and though few chances were created, we were the better side. We had very good wing play and the final ball needs to be improved. But I think it was a very good friendly for us to improve our game. Still a few things to improve on.”
When Koevermans was asked to highlight the individual performances against Pakistan Under-23, he chose to be diplomatic in his response but acknowledged that a few issues need to be ironed out.
"Talking about individuals, we play as a team and go forward as a team. I still see many things that are improving. Some things are not exactly as they should be, but we’ve taken big steps since the first time we’ve been together. As I said, they’re all from different clubs and all of them come from different tactical backgrounds. So, we have to bring them all together and then every week you take steps. This is our sixth week and we’ve just played our sixth game. The Asian Games are a month away and there are plenty of areas where we can improve. I’m however looking forward to the next one,” he elaborated.
Questioned on India’s tactics and the overall implementation of the formation that in turn allows a general flow to the team, Koevermans expounded, “One of our greatest qualities is that when we can get the ball and go forward very quickly. We have excellent pace on the wings through Mandar (Rao Dessai) and (Seiminlen Doungel) Len when he came on. We have had many games where we’re strong on the counter-attack. So I’m thinking about the Asian Games, where we will meet different teams, who are stronger, and it will be interesting to see how we play then, but we’re getting better every day.”
Quizzed about his opinion on Mandar Rao Dessai’s performance, Koervermans seemed pretty pleased with the youngster.
“I like wing-play. And if we have good wingers, we’ll have good play through the middle of the park as well. We have some players who can go one-on-one on the outside. We have some great players like Mandar, who did great today, and Francis (Fernandes) and Len, who came on as a substitute too. We have more players who can play on the wings and I think that’s a very important weapon. It’s a pleasure to have people like them as they did quite well.”
Asked about Sandesh Jhingan, who limped off just before the end, Koervermans elucidated, “He seemed to have a case of cramps at the end. We just wanted to make sure he was okay. Hopefully, it’s just cramps. We’ll have a scan to check if all is okay, but it's just a case of cramps.”
Koevermans stressed that India were the better footballing unit than their counterparts.
“Well it is not my job to focus on the opposition. What is important is that they gave a good account of themselves at the start of the first and the second half. I however think we were the better footballing team. They had some good moves and chances, however, we must remember we were down to ten men."
Finally questioned on the atmosphere of the crowd, Koevermans was ecstatic with the support he got from the spectators. “Oh, it was lovely and wonderful. This is what football is about. You play football for the fans and to see eight thousand fans cheer you on is wonderful. We play football for the fans and we don’t like to play football in empty stadiums. So it’s great to see the crowd respond to the players. It’s a big help always and I hope they comeback on Wednesday. That’d be great.”