New Delhi: India coach Armando Colaco lauded his players for showing tremendous fighting spirit on a virtually unplayable Ambedkar Stadium turf despite the home
team bowing out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers with a 2-2 draw against UAE on Thursday.
A spirited India came back from a two goal deficit to hold a fancied UAE 2-2 in the third round of the qualifiers but it proved too little too late as the home team crashed out of the race for a place in the 2014 World Cup in Rio de
By virtue of their 3-0 win over India in the first leg at home, UAE moved into the third round of the qualifiers on 5-2 aggregate.
"Today we played well no matter what the scoreline says. The ball wasn`t moving because of heavy water on the ground. So we had to resort to plan B, which is playing the long ball. So, all the kudos to the boys for their spirited display," a satisfied Colaco said at the post-match press conference.
"We also played well in Al Ain and the credit should be given to the boys as it is difficult to play in these conditions," he said.
"As I have said earlier it`s the beginning of a new era for Indian football," Colaco added.
Defender Gouramangi Singh found the equaliser for India in the 92nd minute from a goalmouth melee after the home side were trailing 1-2 in the second round match played in a virtual muddy and watery Ambedkar Stadium pitch.
Mohamed Al Shehhi and captain Ali Al Wehabi scored for UAE in the 39th and 71st minutes before Jeje Lalpekhlua pulled one back for India in the 74th minute.
For India, who are 44 places below UAE in FIFA rankings at 153rd, it could be considered a good result after their 0-3 loss in the first leg at Al Ain on July 23 though the playing conditions today were far from being conducive for top-class
With heavy rain lashing the Ambedkar Stadium pitch since half an hour before the start of the match and throughout the game, ground passing was impossible as the ball stopped at the water puddles all over the place.
And understably, both the Indian and UAE camp were not happy with playing surface.
"The playing condition wasn`t good because of rain but if the match was stopped today then (according to FIFA rules) then we would have to wait for one more week, and the players actually wanted to go home," India coach Colaco said.
Colaco made two changes during the course of the match, bringing in Lalrindika Ralte for Steven Dias in the 66th minute and Jewel Raja for Clifford Miranda towards the end.
"Steven Dias had a cough problem while Miranda was struggling, so we had to replace them," he said.
He also said that had it not been for Samir Naik`s small error at the back, India would not have conceded the first goal.
"Samir Naik made a mistake (in the first goal). He had open space to cut off the ball but he couldn`t."
Colaco also asked for support from all and sundry in the wake of fierce criticism from his detractors for dropping some senior players, including former captain Bhaichung Butia.
"There might be a lot of flaks because I have dropped a few seniors but I didn`t do that purposefully.
"You can criticise me but I would request all for constructive criticism not destructive criticism. Playing more and more friendlies is going to help us," he said.
Meanwhile, UAE coach Srecko Katanec seemed contend to have qualified for the next round but was far from being impressed with the playing surface.
He said if not for the unplayable ground conditions, UAE are a far better team than India.
"It`s important that we have qualified. I don`t know how many times our boys have played in these conditions. They scored two goals in these crazy conditions. This wasn`t football but waterpolo. My boys showed fighting abilities and team spirit.
"We wanted to stop the game at the beginning but the referee wanted to finish it otherwise it becomes a problem. But the condition was the same for both teams," he said.
"We are any day a better team and have better players. India has two dangerous strikers (Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua), but honestly India is not in that level like Japan, Iran, South Korea," Katanec added.