SULTAN QABOOS SPORTS COMPLEX, OMAN
5 P.M LOCAL TIME, 3 P.M IST
Arthur Papas’ first litmus test as coach of the India U-22 team starts tomorrow as India take on Lebanon in their first match of the AFC U-22 Championships qualifiers in Muscat. India has been clubbed in a tough group with the likes of Iraq, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and hosts Oman being the other members of the group. But for newly appointed coach Arthur Papas, this tournament will be more about discovering new Indian talent who will eventually break into the senior team as well as changing India’s long ball play into a new style of play with emphasis on ball possession.
“There have been subtle changes in the overall playing philosophy over the course of two weeks. It’s mostly based on developing a style which emphasises on ideas when we stay in possession of the ball. The idea is to be patient and wait for the correct moment for the build up or for example aim to penetrate from deep”, said Papas in an interview with www.the-aiff.com.
Papas has a relatively good squad at his disposal and many of his players are regular starters in the I-League, with as many as eleven of the twenty three members of the squad coming from the AIFF Development squad- Pailan Arrows. For Papas though, the job becomes all the more tough since Pailan Arrows have been known to play the long ball game and moulding the players to change the style of play in a short time would be a herculean task.
With very little or no information whatsoever about his Lebanese counterparts, Papas will try and stick to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, in sync with his philosophy to play an attacking brand of football. Captain Jeje Lalpeklua will start up front along with Air India striker and Football Players Association of India (FPAI) Young player of the year Manandeep Singh and Alwyn George. Manandeep was on target in India’s 4-1 friendly win over DNATA Club and had a fantastic season for Air India in this years I-League and Alwyn is perhaps the most important player in Arthur Papas’ scheme of things.
Lalindika Ralte, who also scored a brace in the practice game, will be an automatic starter at left half. Either of Tirthankar Sarkar – who has scored in the other friendly against a combined African XI, or Pranoy Haldar will mostly start at the center of the park while Dempo midfielder Romeo Fernandes will start on the right. Former Dempo and current Pailan Arrows stopper Prathamesh Maulingkar will partner Deepak Devrani at centre back while while Vishal Kumar and Abhishek Das will complete the back four. Vice captain, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will man the posts.
The game against Lebanon and Turkmenistan from India’s point of view will be crucial as there would be tougher matches ahead against the likes of much higher ranked Oman, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. However for Papas, qualifying for the main U-23 Championships is not the issue. “As a footballing nation it’s critical that we are not taking part in tournaments at youth level with a mentality that ‘we try not to lose’ rather than ‘we play to win’. This means we need to have to look closely at our style of football which will give us the best chance of winning in the long term at Senior International level. We will aim to be more courageous in our football style. What’s important from our point of view is to have a belief in what you are trying to do. I have already explained to the group the areas I’m looking for which will be the determinants of success. All of that is not based on direct result”, he said
Papas is lucky to have worked with a set of boys that have been playing regularly in the I-League. Probably the few positives that have come up via Pailan Arrows’ entry into the I-League is that young players who otherwise were not getting sufficient playing time have now been regularly playing against India’s best. Players like George Alwyn, Holicharan Nazary, Prathamesh Maulingkar, Tirthankar Sarkar and Milan Singh, to name a few, have all benefited from playing time which has given them the confidence a view echoed by their chief coach.
“I need to praise the players as they have shown tremendous maturity during the short period we have been together. They stay open to approaching the game with an open mind and understanding the various ways it can be played. There are still many areas which need to be improved and this can only be achieved by developing together our ideas with time. As always I approach a tournament with the intention to win but at the same time I am looking at players who I believe have attributes can develop into Senior National Team Players for India. This means that maybe a slightly older player has missed out on selection in favour of a younger player who I think with exposure to these type of tournaments can further develop and in the longer term and become a better prospect for the Indian National team”, he added before the team departed to Dubai.
For Arthur Papas and India’s future stars-this is their big moment. As the Australian added, teaching the boys the “play to win” mentality rather than the “we try not to lose” mentality would be his biggest target, They would be watched by newly appointed national team coach Wim Koevermans and for many of these boys it would give them an added impetus to perform well and secure a berth in the national team. The time starts now for India’s Gen Next.
INDIA 1-1 LEBANON