India look to pass Syrian test in opener

Sunil Chhetri has fond memories of the Nehru Cup. The 2007 edition helped him establish himself as the lead striker and this time, he will be leading India into the tournament against Syria, the finalists in the last two editions.

Chhetri was his usual vibrant self in the pre- match press conference and with coach Wim Koevermans besides him, seemed to reflect the mood of the team.

“We have been training for one week and I can’t wait for the tournament to begin. We have a new coach and are all trying to imbibe his style but it is going to take time and it won’t happen overnight,” the 28- year- old said.

Score! The Indian Football Team during a practice before Nehru Cup 2012

Score! The Indian Football Team during a practice before Nehru Cup 2012

Cameroon, Nepal and Maldives are the other teams in the tournament and the African powerhouses are likely to be the biggest obstacle in India’s path. A win in the tournament won’t get India any FIFA points but it certainly means a lot to them as they are the defending champions.

Maldives would also be no pushovers and Nepal also have the ability to give the other teams a fight.

Although the hosts will be going into the match with history in their favour, the fact that their opponents are ranked higher than them will weigh on Indian minds.

The senior team’s last tournament ( AFC Challenge Cup in March) was a disaster in all aspects. Failing to score a single goal, they lost all three matches and coach Savio Medeira also questioned the commitment of some players.

However, the emergence of some of the players in the U- 22 championship in Oman in June does give some hope for the future.

The Nehru Cup would also be Wim Koevermans’s first assignment as head coach and this would be the Dutchman’s first competitive match. The strikers failed to score a single goal in the practice match against Pailan Arrows but Koevermans wore a positive look on the eve of the tournament opener.

Indian Football Team

“I’m pleased with my preparation for the Nehru Cup. The atmosphere has been good and I have confidence in the ability of my players,” Koevermans said.

Much has been said about the importance of possession and Koevermans also mentioned that they have put a lot of emphasis on that aspect.

“Keeping possession of the ball stays the priority. At the same time, we need to create chances and convert them as they come our way. We have worked hard in the camp and hopefully the results will be positive,” he said.

Koevermans, however, did not specify the formation he would employ and said that it would vary in every match.

Alwyn George is expected to make his senior team debut and will play behind Chhetri in the role of an attacking midfielder.

But Koevermans also realises that lack of firepower upfront might prove costly. The onus will be on Chhetri to deliver but Manandeep Singh and Co. will also have to provide support.

Gouramangi Singh and Raju Gaikwad will be at the heart of the defence while Syed Rahim Nabi and Nirmal Chhetri are likely to be the full- backs.

The midfield will also see box- tobox midfielders Mehtab Hossain and Jewel Raja trying to get hold of the ball while Clifford Miranda and Anthony Pereira will be on the flanks.

The Syrians, on the other hand, will look to avenge their loss in the finals in 2007 and 2009.

They will be coming here with an inexperienced team but would be looking to play party poopers.


THIS is the All India Football Federation’s 75th year but the governing body’s marquee tournament — the Nehru Cup — has failed to generate any interest among corporate houses.

The AIFF’s commercial partners ( Reliance- IMG) are supporting the event but haven’t been able to rope in any sponsors.

The AIFF honoured former footballers in the Capital on Monday as part of its 75th year celebrations. But they seemed to be equally at sea about the promotional aspect of the tournament.

“The organisational aspects are being looked after by RILIMG and they are supporting this tournament. It is hard to tell the reasons for not finding sponsor but it is something RIL- IMG have to do,” said an AIFF official.

The Nehru Cup in 2007 and 2009 was sponsored by ONGC. But after RIL- IMG took over in 2010, the I- League has failed to attract any sponsor and RIL- IMG are planning to launch a franchise- based league. But the clubs have voiced their concern over the proposed franchise tournament and a representative of their association — Indian Professional Football Clubs Association ( IPFCA) - will be a part of a meeting between RIL- IMG and AIFF on Thursday.