BHUBANESWAR: It was interesting what India coachHarendra Singhchristened the pool stage of the World Cup: a four-nation tournament. India won that ‘tournament’ on Saturday by topping Pool C to enter the quarterfinals.
“There, the World Cup will begin,” said Harendra, relaxed in his chair after beating Canada 5-1. “We just won a four-nation tournament.”
India now stand a match away from creating history, that of entering the first World Cup semi-final since 1975. Undoubtedly, that’s pressure — to get a 43-year-old monkey off the back.
But it’s a big tick-mark in India’s list of objectives that were drawn on November 28. The team wanted to avoid the anxiety of crossovers. It has done that.
A win, a draw, and a win again – undefeated: the journey couldn’t have begun in a better way.
“Actual tournament starts with the next game. I am happy but can’t be very happy (at the moment),” the coach said.
Canada almost gave a heartbreak by equalising in the third quarter, but India turned it around in a fashion that got a full-house jumping up and down.
A story of missed chances until the 45th minute, India’s game rose to a level that of the champions in the last 15.
Harendra chose the most unexpected word to describe the first three quarters.
“I think in the first half, we did too much running. The final execution, we were in too much of a hurry. I think that childish instinct inside, they have to throw that out. That is what we spoke about at half-time,” he explained.
“This team has the strength, we can change any player at any time.”
Captain Manpreet wasn’t 100 percent, recovering from sore-throat and fever. It required change of tactics.
“We knew Manpreet was having cough and sore throat. We could not use him for the entire match. So we had one less midfielder. That’s why Lalit Upadhyay‘s role changed. I pulled him back a little,” he explained.
It worked to a nicety, so much so that Lalit scored a brace in India’s emphatic win in the end.
Lalit, in fact, added to his coach’s explanation.
“He knows each and every player, how to use them. He wants us to play fearlessly,” the striker said.
One thing Harendra openly rued was failure in keeping a clean sheet. It was something on his list of desires on the eve of the match.
“Clean-sheet nahi hua (didn’t happen), I feel bad about it. By conceding a goal, you give away the momentum to the opposition. It puts pressure on the (future) opponents when they see the team is coming on the back of a clean sheet,” the junior world cup-winning coach added.
So, is the team trying to figure out who they may take on in the last-eight stage?
“In my room, I have already written who we will play in the quarterfinal and who in the semifinal. The World Cup starts now,” he concluded in an emphatic fashion.
The hosts will play in the third quarterfinal on December 13.