Cameroon, Syria, Maldives, Nepal – These were the opponents lined up alongside hosts, India for the Nehru Cup last month. All higher ranked. Some boasting of World Cup experience. Some boasting a rich footballing history. Some with a vociferous fan backing. But all of them with rankings higher than that of India's. The sight of Cameroon in the list, even if it was one without the names you'd normally associate with The Indomitable Lions, would have lead many to believe that the result of the tournament was a foregone conclusion. Cameroon to take the honours – the rest to fight for whatever glory there was left to take!
The above feeling was one not only shared by many fans (India fans have grown up fearing for the worst whenever India plays) but also by the Cameroon side, including their coach Emanuel Bosso – who proudly professed before the final: “We have come here to win the cup and our boys will do that. We won the group league match by one goal; maybe we will win the final by a bigger margin.” Taking a side lightly is one of the cardinal sins in sport, but even then there are a few things you get away with. Especially, when your team is ranked 109 places above the opponent. What Bosso did not account for however, was the Indian Football Team's new found attitude – Nothing is Impossible!
Apparently, those were the first words told to the team when new coach, Wim Koevermans met them for the first time. He couldn't have got the lads to believe in that statement more, having delivered what he promised with a stunning defeat of a heavyweight side to help India lift the prestigious Nehru Cup for the third time in a row.
Koevermans is still new to the India job, but he has started off on the right note and the players believe so themselves. In an exclusive interview, India defender Denzil Franco gives the coach much credit for their performance saying he has helped instil belief and also motivates the players to perform better.
“Wim Koevermans has been to a lot of places and he is a very experienced coach. He is also a very calm person and understands the players well. He was always the person who kept motivating us saying anything is possible. Even when we started the camp, he seemed impressed with the camp and told the players that he's sure we'd go far as a team and that pumped up the team. It was great working under him and I want to continue doing so,” said the 26 year old.
Koevermans has brought into the side what one would normally not attach to Indian football – pre-planning and execution. Many, including me, expected the final to be a repeat of the dress-rehearsal (a group game in which India lost 1-0), but Franco revealed that the team actually were made to sit and chalk out a plan based on what happened in the previous game.
“The final before the final did help us quite well. For every match, you always go in with a plan – what their plus points are, what their weaknesses are. The match (before the final) helped us to locate their weakness and where we can stop them. The match gave us a good understanding as to what we can expect from them in the final. Our coach had a good plan and he gave us good instructions and that helped us a lot.”
One worrying factor for many fans over the years has been India's seemingly undying love for using the long-ball tactic even if the move has hardly ever paid dividends. There has been a marked difference in India's play recently and that, more than the results, has given the Indian football aficionado more reasons to cheer. Under Koevermans the players get a chance to express themselves and play true to their potential. Franco said that as a footballer he enjoyed building attacks patiently rather than going for long balls and hoping for the best.
“People who come to watch us should go back thinking the game was worth the money that they paid. I think, the Indian team tried to entertain their fans and win during the tourney. The coach also was very sure about the tactic he was going to use. In fact, on the very first day he told us – No Long Balls! Previously it has been about too many long balls for us and it was necessary for us to keep the ball at our feet and play,” the Churchill Brothers player said.
Franco was also of the opinion that playing this brand of football would ensure India take big strides in football, and judging by people's reaction to Koevermans' India, he could be spot on.
“It was amazing to see the way the guys played from the stands and even from the bench. For me as well, it was nice to play passing football and I hope we carry on playing this way and we'll go forward.”
The defender also stressed the importance of India having to play higher ranked teams on a regular basis so they get more exposure. Franco also felt the need for the young team to stick together for sometime to come as that would bring out the best in everyone.
“We were the lowest ranked team in the tournament and we ended up winning the Cup. I'm not underestimating our opponents, but I feel we were really good and that all this rankings hype did not affect us. If we keep continuing to play the way we are playing, we will automatically climb up the ladder.
I feel the team is also ready to take on teams like Kuwait, etc. That will give us an opportunity to show what we are capable of. They have to stick with the same team for some time to come. This is young team with a few experienced folks and the more the teams spends together the results will start to show.”
Of course, apart from the hat-trick of Nehru Cup wins and the good press for the same, what made Franco and the team really happy was the turn-out for the India games. Franco says the crowd support was so good that it egged the players to give it their all.
“The crowd support was a big plus point for us. The support came from all corners of the crowd, and such boisterous support was a big help for us,” he sums up.
The team has done its bit in living up to its motto by upstaging one of the more accomplished teams in world football, lets hope it is a precursor for things to come in Indian football. Nothing is Impossible indeed!