Koevermans’ tactical nous comes to the fore

The former youth team coach of Netherlands has had a fine start to his tenure with two wins in as many matches…

The importance of a coach is often realized not just in the training sessions but when the onus is to make a few changes during the course of the game if things aren’t going well for your side. AsK Juventus fans over how they feel about manager Antonio Conte’s ban from the touchline for 10-months given that the Italian was always spot on with substitutions last season. Although Massimo Carrera has had a decent start as the touchline manager with a win in the Super Cup, the Bianconeri faithful still miss the intelligence of Conte who would tweak his tactics in order to fox the opposition to gain an upper hand.

Fans of the Indian national team do not have to worry much given that Wim Koevermans has shown adaptability in his tactics in the first two matches of his tenure.  Against the Syrians, the Indians were all at sea and it was only thanks to Sunil Chhetri’s opportunistic strike that the Blue Tigers went in 1-0 ahead at half-time. The waterlogged field hampered the plans of the West Asians more than the Indians, and the coach opted to bring on Anthony Pereira for debutant Sanju Pradhan which paid off instantly as the Dempo winger did well to get past a Syrian full back to find the back of the net and thus help stamp authority on the outcome of the match.

In the following test against Maldives, India failed to create any clear cut chances for the opening 40 minutes or so in spite seeing more of the ball. In fact the best opportunity befell the opposition when Abdulla Asadullah found Ali Ashfaq who was denied by an alert Subrata Paul. Syed Nabi’s run down the flank ended in a cross which was handled inside the box and Chhetri did the needful from the spot. This also saw Francis excel as he was more comfortable on the wing than in the hole behind the striker.

Koevermans brought on Robin Singh, who was making his senior debut, at the start of the second half for Sanju while moving Francis Fernandes to the right wing. While Singh may not have had a great outing, what he did was bring his physique into play as he would draw at least two Maldives’ defenders towards him and open up spaces for Chhetri, Fernandes and Clifford Miranda to run into.

Chhetri was playing behind Robin in a number ‘10’ role, where he excelled towards the end of last season for Mohun Bagan when Subrata Bhattacharya opted to use him behind Jose Barreto and Odafa Okolie.

Just three minutes after Robin came on and India had an opportunity when Miranda’s cross for the East Bengal striker, guarded by two Maldives players, went over to Chhetri, who was unmarked, but saw his shot blocked.

The combination play between Robin and Chhetri was at its best in the 56th minute when the Indian skipper started a move from the midfield to find his strike partner. Robin found Chhetri in open space inside the box and just as he is about to shoot, Shafiu Ahmed’s tackle saved the day for the Red Snappers.

Robin took three defenders out of the way at the near post

Even in the goal scored by Nabi, Robin at the near post took at least three Maldives players out of the way from the corner-kick which highlighted his contribution.

Yes, Robin should have done better when all he had to do was tap it in from close range from a Francis Fernandes cross but one may attribute it to nerves given that he was playing his first game for the national team.

One did get to see a glaring miss from Chhetri just a minute after his goal when he rounded off the goalkeeper to see his shot hit the post. A miss similar to Fernando Torres' much ridiculed moment against Manchester United last season but given that India had registered a victory, none chose to focus on that.

Koevermans certainly has done a commendable job in the three weeks he got with the squad ahead of the Nehru Cup as he has taken a note of each of his players’ strength and weaknesses which has been highlighted in his substitutions.

Such has been the positive impact of the Dutch coach that even Raju Gaikwad who had a forgettable outing against the Syrians, made a brilliant comeback with Gouramangi Moirangthem leading the defence.

Syed Nabi being allowed the freedom to move forward has been a boon to the national side as most of the attacking moves have come from his side.

India next face Krishna Thapa’s Nepal and although the coach has mentioned that he won’t start with Robin and Chhetri upfront, one can be assured that the coach is well aware of what he is up against and there is little to worry given how hapless the Gorkhalis have been in the tournament.

The Wim Koevermans’ era has just begun…

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