Following their unconvincing displays in the group stage, there was a lot of negativity around the Indian national team before their SAFF Championship 2013 semi-final against Maldives. Many people expected India to bow out of the competition but Wim Koevermans’ side produced an excellent team performance to run out 1-0 winners and the Dutchman is proud of his players.
“I think there was a lot of negative influence around the team but we have handled all that very well. We could have easily had maximum points after the first two games so the performances in those matches weren’t as bad as it was talked about. But I admit that the Nepal game was a big disappointment as we didn’t play the way we can. However after the semi-final we are back on track now and looking forward to the final,” Koevermans said at the pre-final press conference.
Koevermans revealed after beating Maldives that he had used all the negative comments made by the Maldives coach and players about the Indian team to motivate his players. The Afghanistan camp too was critical about India in the buildup to the final and also stated that they wanted to face India in the final. All that will surely be used by the Euro 1988 winner in his team talk again and he sounded pleased on hearing that his opponents are still underestimating his team.
“Up to them if they want to judge us. If I read it as a player or coach it helps in the preparation. But the real battle will be on the pitch and we want to show them what we are capable of. I am happy about what they are saying about India but for us, we don’t underestimate anyone. Before the tournament our target was to play five finals and respect every team. That remains the case ahead of the final too,” he said.
The most impressive aspect about India’s win over Maldives in the semi-final was the fact that they performed well in the absence of talisman and skipper Sunil Chhetri. Koevermans didn’t want to focus much on Sunil’s absence but was full of praise for the whole squad.
“We are a team and that includes the substitutes and support staff also. The performance yesterday was very satisfying and we will take positive energy into the final. Any result is down to the whole team. I am happy with the contribution of the substitutes because it’s not easy to come off the bench and make an impact. We do a lot of work with the substitutes after training to ensure they are ready for the games and so far it has worked out well,” Koevermans commented.
Looking ahead to the final, the 53-year-old acknowledged the physical and technical strengths of Afghanistan but has full faith in this team to match the Afghans in every department.
“They are a very good side and yes it could be a good physical battle tomorrow but we have players for that. Some are not as tall but capable of handling any challenge. Nowadays the game is physically very demanding but it doesn’t mean we have to stop playing football. Afghanistan play a different system compared to Maldives so it will be a different test and we will need a different approach. It is going to be very interesting,” he concluded.