Teams should only be judged on the ground: Koevermans

Kathmandu: Indian football coach Wim Koevermans on Tuesday made his displeasure obvious as he shot back at his team`s critics in the ongoing SAFF Championship here, saying it`s not lip-service but "performance on the ground" that matters.

From Maldives to Afghanistan, the defending champions` opponents in Wednesday’s final, Koevermans` boys have been criticised and dubbed "inferior" by the opposing teams.

"It`s up to them to think about us like this. But the only place where the judgement is made is on the ground. That`s where the real fight is," Koevermans said.

The Dutchman`s comment was in reply to Afghanistan`s assistant coach Ali Jawad Attaii`s assessment that they are "technically and physically" far more superior than the Indians.

"Obviously, these comments (from opposition) will help me motivate the boys and they can produce some extra energy on the field. Hopefully, we will be able to show them that India is a strong side," the former teammate of the legendary Ruud Gullit said.

On the tactics he wished to employ against Afghanistan, the coach said, "It`s a different team and a different game. It will be a physical game as they are a tough side but our boys are not weak either. Expect a final of high-intensity."

Koevermans` no-nonsense approach was evident when a Bangladeshi journalist asked about the delay on part of the coach and skipper Sunil Chhetri to arrive for the scheduled press conference.

"I was involved in a training session before the final which is much more important than attending a press conference. I hope you have more meaningful questions to ask about tomorrow`s match," he said.

After an unimpressive start to the tournament, India advanced to the final with a 1-0 win over Maldives, a result Kovermans said helped the team get out of a "nasty feeling".

"There was a lot of negativity and the boys realized that they need to perform well to get over that nasty feeling about what all was being said about the team. They knew that it won`t change unless they performed well. The match against Maldives went as per plan."

The lanky Dutchman then added, "The basic idea was to stop their No 6 (Mohammed Arif) from playing his game. He is the man who supplies balls to the forwardline. Once we stopped him from playing, it turned out to be our game."

The coach informed that Izumi Arata had a "bad fall" and is a doubtful starter tomorrow.

"Izumi is walking like an old man right now," the coach said in jest.

"Well, the support staff is trying to get him fit for the final but we are still not sure if it will be possible or not," he said on a more serious note.

The former defender, who was a part of the Netherlands national squad which won the Euro 1988, was all praise for young Arnab Mondal.

"Well, I guess his foot is still hurting after that goal he scored," the coach said.

"Actually, we had practiced a lot of set-pieces and when the moment came, he (Arnab) thought of giving it a go. I am very happy to see him shape up well. Playing in central defence is not an easy job.

"Defending is a team job and if someone makes a mistake, the others will have to step up for that person," Koevermans said, trying to shield the youngster who hasn`t exactly set the stage on fire as far as his defensive qualities were concerned.