India, Pak begin final build-up for Asiad

Neighbours face-off in first of two friendlies

India, Pak begin final build-up for Asiad

An exposure trip to Czech Republic for the Indian Under-23 National side was supposed to give Wim Koevermans the answers about his side’s make up for the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. 

However, two draws and a loss – a tame 0-1 against Bohemian League side TJ Domazlice – has left the Indian coach with more questions than answers.  While he maintained that he was generally happy with what he learned in the exposure trip in the pre-match press conference, Koevermans will be hoping for a better display from his wards when India take on the Pakistan Under-23 side in a first of two friendly matches here at the Bangalore Football Stadium on Sunday. 

“Obviously, the aim is to do well in the Asian Games,” he told the media on Saturday. “We are going there to win it,” he said on a rather serious note. 

While talk like that inspires players, Indian football has seldom been able to walk the talk in the recent past – the senior side, also under Koevermans, lost 0-2 against Afghanistan in the final of the SAFF Championships. The Under-23 side, which does have genuine talents like Lalrindika Ralte and Alwyn George, also has flattered to deceive. 

Skipper of the Under-23 side, Sunil Chhetri – one of the three over-age players along side Robin Singh and Francisco Fernandes – is expected to lead the attack. Both Ralte and George are likely to play some part in the friendly. 

While the ‘friends’ from across the border struck the right chord saying that this trip would be another small step towards bridging differences, Pakistan Under-23 captain, Kaleem Ullah, echoed Chhetri’s sentiments when he said he was here to win a football match. 

“These are very important matches against India, who are a good opposition,” Ullah said. 

“It is important to prepare for the Asian Games and we hope to get a good result.” In an interesting observation, Pakistan’s Bahrain coach, Mohammad Shamlan, has named only one over-age player as he looks to build a side for the future. 

“That (a team packed with youth internationals) is because we want to build a team for the future.  “I have been working with these boys now for nine months and my target is to help Pakistan qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.” 

The defences of both the teams are fragile (the Indians shipped in seven goals in their Czech sojourn) and the game could very well be decided on an ‘I want to outscore you’ mantra. 

The last time these two sides played in a bilateral series was way back in 2005. The Stadium is sold out and hopefully the match would live up to expectations.

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