Going gung-ho in Guangzhou. That's the feeling the Indian football team is exuding after their 4-1 victory over Singapore on Thursday, which propelled them into the knock-out round of the Asian Games after a a gap of 28 years.
Proving the soothsayers wrong has never been one of the Indian football team's strong points when it comes to competing on such a big stage as the Asian Games, but on Thursday, what Sukhwinder Singh's young boys achieved was a miracle and would have silenced the critics, though belatedly.
"This is the fruit of the youth development programme undertaken by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), " said the chief of the football delegation, Subrata Dutta. "We've kept these boys together year after year until they have learnt to jell. The credit for this resurgence also goes to coach (Sukhwinder) under whose guidance the team also won the SAF Cup.
"This victory augurs well for domestic football as most of the boys (this is an Under-23 team, with just three seniors) will become seniors and go on to do the country proud," he said.
Dutta also said that despite defeats against defending champions Qatar and Kuwait, the boys had given a good account .
"Against Qatar, we were leading 1-0 before we conceded goals, while against Kuwait, we had 60-70 per cent of ball possession before we lost 2-0. In the do-or-die situation, we outplayed Singapore. Had our first-choice goalkeeper, Laxmikant Kattimani, not suffered an injury, we could have even beaten Qatar. That would have been a huge achievement, as Qatar are the defending champions."Kattimani has been ruled out for at least a fortnight after a collision with Qatari midfielder Saleh Mohamed.
"The boys are energetic and the blueprint prepared by the AIFF --- of preparing an AIFF Developmental team for the I-League and one for the India under-21 camp --- coupled with quality coaching is the reason for the about-turn.," he averred, adding "The team is now playing proper modern hockey backed by modern training. I'm sure that in the years to come, India will win more laurels."
Speaking about the next match, Dutta said, the side will either play Iran or Japan.