India named its 23-member squad for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers to be held in Myanmar on Sunday, after a training camp of a couple of weeks in Pune.
In an exclusive interview with Goal.com, Wim Koevermans expressed his happiness at the facilities afforded to his squad in the city, while also commending his players for the effort they put in during the camp.
“It has been a very good training camp for us. The ground and the hotel services were all very good and I am very content.”
“The effort the players put in is never a problem, the intensity is high and everyone is working hard. They are trying to improve themselves,” the former Netherlands International added.
The Dutch coach though, rued his luck given that he faced with injuries the players carried into the camp, or sustained during preparations.
He stated, “There was one incident where two players (Arnab Mondal and Francis Fernandes) got injured as they went to kick the same ball. I think Arnab has been very unlucky, as I hear the last time he was part of the national camp, the same thing happened. It was very unfortunate.”
“Sandesh Jhingan on the other hand had an old injury, but it healed and was perfect, but then he got it on the other side so we could not take him (to Myanmar),” continued Koevermans.
“Joaquim Abranches came into the camp with an injury, we tested him and it would have been impossible for him to train for atleast one week. So we could not have taken him as it would be a risk. It is always a risk when these players come from different competition with different levels of fitness and injury. That is why we hope that players remain injury free during the camp, but as I said, there was this unfortunate incident with Francis and Arnab,” informed the Indian national team’s head coach.
The Dutchman though did not call-in any replacements, except Rowilson Rodrigues, who made the final squad in-place of Sandesh Jhingan. He emphasized,”We have a big squad here to choose from, we will be taking only 23 players to Myanmar, so we had enough (in the camp) to select from.”
A major criticism regarding the selection of the squad in recent times has been about choosing players who are out of form or not even regulars for their respective clubs.
The 52-year old explained, “There is always inconsistency with players in the I-League. I see in the league that one week the player does well, and next time he is not even on the team-sheet. So it is not always easy to see players at a constant form over several weeks. They change positions and go in and out of the squad. But now they are here and playing everyday infront of me.”
While circumspect about the issues regarding injuries, Koevermans held back no punches, when it came to discussing the bizarre scheduling from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which saw players from Churchill Brothers and East Bengal, leave the camp mid-way, to represent their clubs in the AFC Cup.
He mentioned, “I am still upset about it, but then of course we have to deal with it and that is what we shall do. I think it is ridiculous scheduling by AFC. Initially they had made a mistake first, that they had put two dates of AFC Cup during the Challenge Cup. How can they organize two such tournaments at the same time?”
“Then they decided to put it before the tournament and said we cannot change it a second time. We requested them to put it after the tournament. But they said we have accommodated both club and country as the players can now play for their club and then for their country.”
“But they don’t understand that teams prepare themselves. We are here in a training camp and want the team to be together. But I also agree with the clubs that they want to prepare for the AFC club. It is an important tournament and provides international exposure to players, which is important.”
Koevermans stressed though, that he had no issues with the clubs, as it was the AFC which had put all of them in such a quandary, which will see the affected players return just a couple of days before the tournament opener.
Koevermans displeased with the scheduling by AFC
“Players have to go to the clubs and I don’t have any fight with the clubs as AFC is the problem, it is ridiculous. It also increases chances of injuries during the AFC Cup, though I hope it doesn’t happen. But it will definitely affect the players, as Churchill play on the 26th February and the squad shall travel from Hongkong to Myanmar. East Bengal on the other hand play on 27th February, and will travel after the game, so they arrive on 28thFebruary.”
“Hence we get only the 1st, which is going to be just one session (before we play our first game on March 2) and that is unbelievable. Administrators don’t understand this apparently but coaches do! Also in the tournament, to play a match every other day, it is not good. There is not enough rest and recovery time, increasing the risk of serious injuries. I think the last time during such a tournament, Sunil Chhetri got injured and the risk is always there. We should not take this risk, as this is about development of football and players and people should start taking it seriously,” stated the Dutch coach, explaining how such a scenario would affect his team’s preparation and affect the players fitness.
The Blue Tigers head into the AFC Challenge Cup after having been drubbed by Palestine by a scoreline of 4-2. Koevermans however tried to downplay the incident and focused on the positives.
He said, “Listen, we watched the game and there was a lot of good stuff I look forward to. Maybe individual mistakes were the problem in the game. They are difficult to avoid, but a few things could be done better. We had some great spells in the game. Everybody had us believe it (Palestine) is a second string side, but I think that was rubbish as the way they started the game, those were the players that played in their last major tournament 9 out of 11 players. So the players he (The Palestine coach) put, had already been in the squad before.”
The Blue Tigers coach also did not feel that his squad surrendered meekly in the second half of the friendly at Kochi and stressed, “No that is not true as we got chances in the second half but that is in the past and we have to focus on the next game. We showed the video to the players and we know what to work on.”
While the Dutchman was optimistic about his side’s chances in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, he was also cautious enough to not underestimate any of his three opponents.
He explained, “I never underestimate any opponent. All the teams are close together in FIFA rankings, and we have analysed them all. I am always confident (about our chances), when I look at the boys and what they can do and what they are capable of. Then I am confident.”
“I am here since Nehru cup and there they showed they (the players) can play at a good level. The results do go up and down, but that is down to the overall development of the team. There are a lot of new guys and it is going to be a process going forward. We are confident of doing a good job in Myanmar,” he concluded.
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