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The Dark Horse

Nehru Cup Thread

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Footfalls at Nehru Stadium have thinned. The stands are silent most time of the year. Movements on the football turf are restricted too. The ghostly ambience is a reflection of the sport as football craves for attention in the Capital. The Ambedkar Stadium is time and again ravaged by political outings and the Nehru Stadium is a grim reminder of the sluggish progress that football has made for many decades now. The Nehru Cup, starting on August 22, brings football action of some kind to the Nehru Stadium. Ambedkar Stadium would have been an ideal venue for this tournament. If Bob Houghton had continued as coach, we would have travelled to the Ambedkar Stadium in old Delhi. Instead, the event will now be staged at a swanky venue, even though the game, sadly, may not match the glossy conditions. Indian football faces a daunting task under new coach Wim Koevermans, the former Dutch international expected to work miracles. He is not singing any eulogies other than making basic encouraging observations. He knows his job and begins it with a stern test at the Nehru Cup. In a team game, it is rare for individuals to dominate and India clearly falls woefully short in this area. There is not an individual to step into the shoes of the redoubtable Baichung Bhutia. INEXPERIENCED India will be without now-retired Mahesh Gawli and Climax Lawrence. Which means it will be without experience. It will also be without striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. Which means it will also be without its young powerhouse. The new coach brings new ideas and concepts and the trick lies in how quickly the team adapts and responds. The emphasis here is on untiring legs and possession football. Koevermans has rightly picked the highly rated Alwyn George and the promising Manandeep Singh. These two gifted forwards figure prominently in the coachÃÔ scheme of things and bring quality to the teamÃÔ campaign. Interesting times lie ahead for the coach and his pupils as India gingerly steps into a vital phase of its football renaissance. The SAFF Cup triumph late last year had stoked football passions but not to the extent that one can expect the tackling and interceptions of the Indians to counter those of the opposition. Cameroon and Syria bring a touch of mystique to their fare. Flair to attack gives Cameroon and Syria a highly commendable reputation and the Indians would be under intense pressure when up against them. An inch conceded could assume disastrous proportions. It is this ferocity in their ranks that make Cameroon and Syria worthy aspirants to the title. Nepal and Maldives are not really unknown forces. They can be lethal in their own way. They can be hugely unpredictable and donÃÕ just make up the numbers. Nepal and Maldives belong to this tournament and one can look forward to some exciting stuff from these two teams. All matches are to be played under lights with the hope that this might ensure an increase in footfalls at the Nehru Stadium. The schedule (Matches start at 7 p.m.): Aug 22: India v Syria; Aug 23: Maldives v Nepal; Aug 24: Syria v Cameroon; Aug 25: India v Maldives; Aug 26: Nepal v Cameroon; Aug 27: Maldives v Syria; Aug 28: India v Nepal; Aug 29: Cameroon v Maldives; Aug 30: Syria v Nepal; Aug 31: India v Cameroon; Sept 2: Final.

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Nepal wary of an in-form India VIJAY LOKAPALLY TH28_NABI_1191310f.jpg

Nepal is wary of the vigorous force that India has emerged in its two matches of the Nehru Cup. Wins against Syria and Maldives have shown the home team in the best frame of mind to do justice to the coaching methods of Wim Koevermans. “We need to keep ourselves updated and be in tune with the trends in world football,” Koevermans insists. The players understand him well and are willing to adapt even if it means growing demands on their endurance. Maldives coach Istvan Urbanyi was right when he said, “This is a new India.” The style and attitude have changed. The onus is on attack, keeping possession and backing one another. It is best exemplified in the quick response to a challenge. Stronger side Nepal coach Krishna Thapa sums it up well, “This Indian side is stronger than the one that played the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu. There are several strong, young players in the side now. They look sharper. Upfront, (Sunil) Chhetri also looks more aggressive. The performance level is going up with every match. Against Maldives, India was too good. But that doesn’t mean Nepal can’t beat India.” India is taking it step by step as advocated by Koevermans. “There’s no point in thinking about future matches. We face Nepal in the next match and a win will take us to the final,” says Syed Rahim Nabi, who has had a fine tournament thus far. Chhetri is realistic of his role. “I just give my best, that’s my duty.” His mates share the responsibility and look at Nepal as a worthy opponent despite the latter’s dismal run so far. As Mehtab Hossain notes, “The Nepalese are very quick. They play short passes and build up fast. Against Maldives, though they lost, they fought really well.” Nepal will not be a pushover. The team has not clicked in any department. To win against India would be the motivation. A dry turf can produce a close contest. Rasheed is Maldives’ hero Meanwhile on Monday, in a match delayed by rain, Maldives beat Syria 2-1, which needed a win to stay in the hunt. Ali Ashfaq put Maldives ahead in the 59th minute before Alaa Alshbbli equalised with a reverse kick 21 minutes later. Ahmed Rasheed struck in injury time to swing the match Maldives's way. Syria now has two points with a match in hand and Maldives has six with a match in hand too. The results: Maldives 2 (Ali Ashfaq 59, Ahmed Rasheed 90+3) bt Syria 1 (Alaa Alshbbli 80). Tuesday’s fixture: India vs. Nepal, 7 p.m.

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Cameroon to meet India in the final

Wim Koevermans watched from the galleries and must have returned to his room with plenty of notes on Cameroon. The Indian coach watched the African set up a Nehru Cup title clash with the home team following a thumping 3-1 win over Maldives at the Nehru Stadium here on Wednesday. The victory carried Cameroon to seven points, the same as India. The two meet in an inconsequential match on Friday. The Nepal-Syria match on Thursday is a mere formality now. Kingue Mpondo scored twice and Bertin once for Cameroon, while Abdul Ghani Akram netted for Maldives — which finished the tournament with six points. Launching moves from deep in its own half, the African nation brings a refreshingly positive brand of football. Cameroon prospered through the tireless Ashu Tambe. His innovative moves left Maldives in a predicament often, as Tambe — with his deft body dodges — moved freely in the Maldives half, creating space with ridiculous ease. Tambe’s run on the right was complemented by Bertin in the middle. Cameroon gave an indication of its plans when Mpondo scored in the 11th minute through after Tambe and Merme did the spadework. Tambe created the opportunity by finding Merime, who moved close to the goal-line before back-passing on the turn for Mpondo to finish with a volley. Maldives equalised against the run of play 15 minutes later. It was a well-constructed move that saw Easa Ismail lob the ball over the Cameroon wall for Akram to trap and tap the ball in a flourish. The goal lifted Maldives’ hopes and evoked vociferous support from a small group of supporters. But it was Cameroon that called the shots for most of the remaining contest. Makon Thierry — five minutes from half time — came tearing into the Maldives box, but delayed his strike. From the resultant corner, Mpondo scored with a booming header. Maldives was outplayed in the second half. It lost Ali Ashadh when he was sent off for pushing referee Hashmi Hamad when the latter blew for a penalty. On a corner kick, Ashadh tugged at Mpondo’s shirt and the referee was prompt in awarding Cameroon a penalty. Bertin scored and Maldives hurtled towards defeat. Maldives missed its Hungarian coach Istban Urbanyi, who watched from the stands. He had been red-carded for dissent in the previous match against India. The result: Cameroon 3 (Kingue Mpondo (11, 40), Ebanga Bertin 50) beat Maldives 1 (Abdul Khani Karim 26).

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