Sukhwinder Singh didn’t want comparisons between his latest SAFF Cup triumph and victory over the UAE team, coached by Henri Michel, in a 2001 World Cup qualifier but admitted that Sunday’s triumph feels special.
“That’s because nobody was expecting this. The press here said India weren’t serious having got their U-23 side. And at the best of times, this is not an easy tournament,” the India coach, still stuck with the squad in Dhaka because of a flight hiccup, told HT on Monday.
“Beating the UAE in 2001 (then ranked 55 places above India at 66) was different because the class of competition was different. Here, I always knew that the title was within reach and told the boys that,” Sukhwinder, 60, who won the SAFF Cup in 1999, said.
He said a few players from this squad “are very close” to making the senior team.
About goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya though Sukhwinder made special mention.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much about him and even though everyone contributed to this title, I have to say he stood out. He has all the qualities to go far. He is a big physical presence in goal, is flexible, dives well, grips well and makes the right decisions,” Sukhwinder said of the Churchill Brothers’ goalie and Subrata Pal’s understudy in the senior national team.
Asked if apart from confidence, the boys would take anything from this triumph, Sukhwinder, whose first international assignment was with the India U-16 team in 1986, said: “Well, they also realise that they need to work harder.”
Up next for Sukhwinder and his boys are the AFC Challenge Cup, in February, 2010, and the Asian Games.
And he is looking forward to it. “The good thing for me here is that I am working independently.”