BY AYUSH SRIVASTAVA Follow @ayush_sri on twitter
While India came into the SAFF Cup as the defending champions, they were in the end only able to huff and puff their way into the semi-finals.
Their coach, Wim Koevermans though, is content with the fact that the team is into the semi-finals, and pointed out, “I am not going to answer that (about being the weakest team in the last four), as it’s your role. I work with my team from the start and we knew what group we were in, which is the group of death. It was tough. But now we are in the semi-finals, which is great and we are now working on the next game.”
When quizzed about Maldives’ recent prolific run, which saw them score 18 goals in two games, the Dutchman mentioned, “Yes but they were not in the group of death. I can’t do anything about them, I watched their games. Which group do you think was easier, their group or our group?”
“I said the opposition were not as strong as those in the group of death, that’s as simple an answer I can give,” he further elaborated.
The coach was happy as his team had finally got a good break, after playing three games in six days during the group stages. He felt it could be a pivotal factor during the semi-final, and stated, “Yes, we are happy that we are better rested, and you can see the energy in the guys. Hopefully it will help us be focused for the entire 90 minutes.”
Koevermans though, did not feel his team needed to be motivated, before the semi-final, and he thought they were ready to play their fourth ‘final’, in the competition. He opined, “I don’t have to motivate the team. We are setting the target of winning the SAFF Cup, so we had three tough games and this is the fourth one, as I said we have to play five finals to keep the cup. But it will also be a tough game, so we are prepared for that. We never under-estimate any team.”
Talking of his tactical plan for the game against Maldives, the Dutchman was confident he had the right plan to tackle the Group B winners, but hinted he would not change to a two strikers’ upfront approach. He revealed, “I wouldn’t say we always play better with two players upfront. I don’t agree to that. Sometimes it is necessary to do things differently and we shall have a plan ready for Maldives.”
The main man for Maldives so far has been Ali Ashfaq, who has led the line admirably for his nation. When quizzed about his plan to stop the in-form striker, Koevermans quipped jokingly, “Well depends if he plays since the last game he didn’t play! We know the players and we need to defend well and play well.”
The coach also refused to compare his Nehru Cup triumph to a potential defense of the SAFF Championship crown, commenting, “I think every tournament is a big achievement, that (Nehru Cup) was a big win and this one (would be) a good achievement.”
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