Coach lauds Indians' performance

BANGALORE, MAY 20. The dark horse and the whipping boy struck different notes. Indian coach Sukhwinder Singh lauded his boys' consistency in the World Cup Group 8 qualifiers despite failing to clinch a berth in the second round. And Brunei coach Zainuddin Kassim rued the first goal awarded to India.

A 5-0 Indian victory and a heavy downpour did leave the Sree Kanteerava Stadium denizens hanging between delight and dismay. And amidst the gloom of rain, irony was not far when the electronic scoreboard flashed, ``India qualified for the second round''!. However when the curtain finally came down on another futile Indian bid to qualify for the World Cup second round, a sense of satisfaction did permeate the Nation's football maidans.

``The boys have revived interest in Football. They played consistently but there are some areas where we can still improve like defence and playing under pressure. Look at the media craze, look at the public craze..it's all because of the boys good show. Now we have an added responsibilty,'' Sukhwinder Singh said.

Brunei, saddled with a bulging net and a blank scoreline in all its six matches, will now return to the C Division league fixtures in Malaysia. The series of defeats did hurt but for Zainuddin Kasim, the sore point was India's first goal struck by Jules Alberto under an offside cloud.

``It was a wrong decision. With that goal, our boys were demoralised. Even the Jo Paul Ancheri-penalty (which Bhaichung converted) was wrong. But the referee's decision is final and we respect it,'' he said while talking to the media with the help of a translator. He did rein in his frustration and when queried on the Group 8 big brothers - UAE and India, he was quick on the take. ``UAE is a better side than India, they play a faster game,'' he said.

A question mark still hangs on Baichung Bhutia's participation in the Merdeka Cup at Kuala Lumpur from June 20 to 30. A resigned note did register when Sukhwinder Singh said, ``it is a team game and we have to adjust. Bhutia's engagements in England are also very important.'' But the last word has not been said yet and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) secretary Alberto Colaco said, ``we will talk to Bhutia and if he has a genuine reason then we will leave him. He also needs to spend time with his family.''

- Our Sports Reporter