As the rain clouds rolled in, the India under-23 squad took the field under the astute gaze of English coach Desmond Bulpin. One day ahead of the second-leg Olympic qualifier against Qatar, the Balewadi stadium here was already getting into the mood with the public address system blasting everything from Iron Maiden to Rihanna.
A short practice session ensued, just light running and a last minute run-through of the set-pieces with special focus on captain Raju Gaekwad's long throw-ins. It seemed ike Sunday's 1-3 loss to Frenchman Bernard Simandi's boys had been cast away like stale bread.
Bulpin stood by his team's performance against the Gulf nation in the away leg at the Al Sadd Stadium in Doha.
"Let's face it, they're ranked in the top 100 for a reason. They've had great coaches and better facilities including a weight training programme for the last 20 years. They pass the ball well and are physically stronger," he began.
"A lot of good work has been done with regard to infrastructure for the Indian Arrows team (which forms the core of the U-23 squad) and there's better physical conditioning now and this is thanks to the federation. It will translate into results soon."
Need to score more
Simondi sounded disappointed with the result. "We won, but we should have scored more," he said and complemented the Indian side, saying, "They pressed well and coach Bulpin knows how to utilise his players."
"I would've preferred 2-1 but the away goal gives us a chance," said Bulpin adding that relying simply on Gaekwad's Rory Delap like throws won't work.
"We have to work on every set-piece. That's where we can beat them and we also have to catch them on the counter-attack. The rain will give us a slight edge." Qatar trained in Spain after their league ended on May 5 and held their own against reserve teams of Real Madrid (1-1), Getafe (3-2) and Rayo Vallecano (2-2).
"It was good practice to play against the youth teams of the Spanish clubs and it gave us confidence. Right now, adjusting to Indian conditions will not be difficult unless in rains heavily," said Simondi.
Bulpin, on the other hand, wished his team had played a few friendlies ahead of the first leg.
According to a release from the All India Football Federation, India have replaced Zakir Mundampara with Milan Singh and Snehasish Chakraborty with Jagtar Singh.