‘We are not worried about the mathematics of qualification’: Arthur Papas

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Yet another match, yet another great result for the Indian football team in the U22 AFC Championship Qualifiers. The last hurdle that we have to face is the host Oman itself. Enjoying home support, the team might be a tough nut to crack.

Apart from beating them, there is a lot of calculation remaining to be done. Is the team worried about it?

How are our boys recovering, having to play so many matches in short time?

In an exclusive post-match interview to Indian Football Network, Indian coach Arthur Papas talks about all this and much more:

Somesh: As per reports,  Turkmenistan started the game very defensively today and it was difficult to score. How did you manage to break that and pump in 4 goals?

Arthur: Actually it wasn’t that Turkmenistan began the game defensively, it was more due to a much more controlled start from us in which we wanted to settle as soon very quickly and were able to retain the ball from the outset, which in turn forced Turkmenistan back because they were unable to win the ball back. If I was to judge the game purely on performance then the first half today was our best half of football since I began with the team. Our build up from the back was well constructed, we were patient at the right times and yet still created many chances either from set-pieces or through open play. Also, we were able to get our full-backs much more involved in our attacking movements and this is an area we will work even more once we begin with Pailan. Balancing this our organisation was very efficient and this is why when we lost possession we were able to win the ball back much quicker.

 Our second half although the scoreline suggests otherwise was quite shaky for a 15 minute period and after going back to 1-1 I changed the shape of midfield and brought in both Tirthankar Sarkar and Jeje because I felt we were not finding the correct positions in ball possession. It was my belief that Turkmenistan could only play at their top intensity for between 60-65 minutes so again the plan was to introduce players who could expose this fatigue and lack of conditioning at the right time. Tonight the boys again showed the great mentality and desire they possess, to keep believing in the game we are trying to play is something I have harped on about and in the end it paid off because we were able to wear down Turkmenistan with our constant ball circulation and probing to complete a convincing victory. 
Somesh: Despite the win, we picked up yellow cards and will be missing out Narayan Das and Tirthankar Sarkar. Das has been a regular starter in all the matches. Will it affect  us in the next match against Oman?
Arthur:  Tonight both the boys are disappointed because in hindsight they understand they could have avoided the bookings considering the result at the time. I can only say it’s again another learning moment for both of them as they are both young players who play to their maximum whether it is the first minute or the ninetieth minute. It’s now about finding the balance in their aggressiveness in the future and this experience will help them to do so.
 
In terms of affecting us in the next match we have shown we are not dependant on any one player and this now opens up opportunities for other players to put their hand up. Throughout our whole training camp we consistently rotated players in different positions and we have shown real flexibility tactically to rotate our squad for every match without a drop in performance.
Somesh: We have played a very attacking game throughout the tournament. One thing we manage to do is earn a lot of corners/set-pieces. But the conversion rate is very low. Is that one thing you would really stress upon in the days ahead?
Arthur: Sorry I don’t necessarily agree with you on this one, out of 11 goals scored we have 4 from set-pieces which means we are operating at just under 40%. In terms of world standards this is a very high conversion rate from overall goals to goals coming from set-pieces. In saying this we keep revisiting our set-pieces on a daily basis whether that be defensive or attacking, we keep on trying to improve the details within these set-pieces and I have seen a huge improvement in our set-pieces in a very short time.
Somesh: How do you see Oman as an opponent?
Arthur: Oman so far and you can call it the luck of the draw or whatever but have been given a logistical joy ride per se. Firstly, they are the host nation which is always an advantage but also they are the only team in the group not to have to change playing venues once or had to play at 5pm when the heat is at it’s maximum. 

 
Aside from the logistical love they have been shown on a football side they are a team who have many qualities. They possess a lot of speed across the majority of their positions and use this to aid their transition to attack. Tactically they alter between a 1-4-4-2 or 1-4-3-3 and show flexibility to be able to change this within the game seamlessly. 
 
Based on all the variables mentioned and as like every game we have played we are the underdogs and this sits quite comfortable with us. Oman have the pressure of having to win the game in front of their home fans due to their goal difference, we have seen many times already in this tournament how pressure on a young player can be detrimental psychologically to on-field performance and this is something they have to deal with to a much greater deal than our boys.
Somesh: We will be having the last round matches and our qualification depends on the Iraq vs UAE game as much as on our game against Oman. Will that create a pressure on the team?
Arthur: No, our challenge is simply to ensure we get a result against Oman and not to think for what is happening between Iraq v UAE. Until now we have made it a point not to discuss other teams aside from our direct opponent or begin worrying about the mathematics of qualification. Our full focus and concentration is on Oman and we prepare for this game like we prepared for our first game and so on. 
Somesh: How are the boys coping up with the stress of playing so many matches in a short time-span?
Arthur: They have coped extremely well and that is due to a combination of elements comprising of a more detailed approach with our sports science methods as well as the ability to rotate the team consistently. In terms of the sports science we have introduced every day we weigh the players, monitor their food intake, ensure they are receiving regular treatment and massage as well as adding additional recovery sessions whether they be by using ice baths or the pool for a more active recovery. We have also placed a high emphasis on the half-time period which is a perfect opportunity to again re-hydrate and restore energy expended.

 
They have all embraced this attention to their overall well-being and I am certain this is one of the reasons we are finishing games so strongly amongst many. It’s a credit to the staff as well because they have worked tirelessly to ensure the players only have to think about their game and that is the way it should always be. We leave no stone unturned in our quest for success!
Somesh: Thank you Mr. Papas for the interview. We wish you luck for the next match!
Arthur: Thanks you!

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