Having begun its title defence with a lacklustre performance, India would look to make amends and stamp its authority when it takes on Bangladesh in its second group league match of the SAFF football championships here on Tuesday.
It was a disappointing show by India in its opener as it allowed Pakistan to dominate for a major part of the match and needed an own goal from the rival skipper to come out unscathed.
The Indian team coach Wim Koevermas minced no words in the post-match press conference, saying he was not happy with the team’s performance. He added India was lucky to have won the game.
India, though, will start the favourite in Monday’s Group A match against Bangladesh, which is ranked 158th. In the 22 meetings between the two teams, India has won 11 and Bangaldesh three. Eight games ended in a draw. The last time the two sides met in the 2007 Nehru Cup in New Delhi, India won 1-0 with captain Bhaichung Bhutia scoring the lone goal.
India needs to improve its game if it is serious about the title defence and coach Koevermans knows it. A victory on Monday will virtually put India in the semifinals.
Koevermans believes that his boys will treat each and every game as a final. “It’s our second ‘final’ as we are here to play five ‘finals’ and defend our title. Bangladesh saw us play and will have a plan for us,” Koevermans said.
Asked about the strategy for Tuesday’s match, Koevermans said: “Bangladesh is a good side and it is their final chance against us. But we need to focus on ourselves. There’s always a scope of improvement. Nepal and Bangladesh have had an extra rest day when every other team is playing every alternate day, I think it’s not fair,” he added.
Captain Sunil Chhetri, who is just three goals shy of becoming India’s highest goal-scorer, missed three chances against Pakistan. “It’s destiny. That’s how a striker’s life goes. On a certain day, it just does not go in. He will score in the next match,” Chhetri’s strike partner Jeje Lalpekhlua said.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s Dutch coach Lodewijk de Kruif, who was once Koevermans’ student in an A-Licence course, said: “It’s a do-or-die match for us. We will play to our full strength. India was a bit lucky against Pakistan. We know its playing style as much as it knows ours,” he added.