Muscat, June 22 (IBNS): You look around and all you find are rocks. Rocks to the left, rocks to the right, rocks in front.
You keep staring and after a while it’s just a blur – a brown blur. The roads stay disobedient -- disobedient enough to invade.
They stay wide enough to allow you to the luxury of driving at a high speed. You don’t need to over speed because the average speed stays around 120km per hour.
Head Coach Arthur Papas isn’t willing to over speed either. “It is our first match of the Championship and is a critical one. A good start can provide us the optimism to look a qualification,” he maintains. The boys listen.
You ought to like the man for sure. He has been successful enough to impart a strict sense of discipline within the team. There’s a certain dress code for all to follow; if you are late for the meals, you are ‘punished.’ The punishment ranges from having intense extra sprints in practice to singing a song prior to lunch or dinner.
With things taking a bit more than usual to settle down after checking into the Muscat Hotel on Thursday (June 21), a few of his wards arrived a bit late for lunch. They had to sing. “Jana Gana Mana…” The start just couldn’t have been better. All appreciated.
“This is very necessary. There’s unity in the team. We need to push ourselves to be on time and perfect for everything. Football is all about that,” midfielder Lalrindika Ralte adds.
On the field, Papas has been stressing on a new style of play -- a style which emphasises on keeping possession of the ball. Once you get it, you can’t afford to let it go. And you have to admit, the boys have shown “tremendous maturity.”
“The practice sessions are fun,” proclaims Ralte. “We are enjoying it. Everyone is enjoying it.”
You watch from a distance. It’s all about touches – one, two, three, four…and at times, seems unending. Unaffected, relaxed, confident, one can rely on his skills. “We need to strike a balance,” is all what Papas will tell you.
Off the field, almost every moment, he’s on his toes. “Water intake should be high,” he says. The boys nod. “No desserts please,” he goes on. The boys agree. “No late nights. Take enough rest;” the boys trust him.
The conditions in Oman were supposed to be foreign. There’s a heat wave which will prompt you to believe the indoors are the best place on Earth. But the Camp in Delhi and Dubai has proved beneficial though Papas informs: “Dubai was less hot.”
Lebanon challenge India in their first match on June 23 (IST: 6.30pm). Iraq, UAE, Turkmenistan and Oman follow.
“We stay on a threshold,” Captain Jeje Lalpekhlua proclaims: “We have adjusted to a new style, it’s a new bunch and we have a new Coach at the helm. There’s a more definite approach at the moment,” he adds. “I’ve recovered fully and am fit at the moment.”
On the highway, the bus glides between the blur of rocks. The boys stay intense. After all, this is the second biggest Championship in Asia, the AFC U-22 Championship.
But there are no stoppages. More than a thousand miles away from home, at 140km per hour, the driver, more Bollywood than all, prefers to have Kishore Kumar as his companion when he drives. “Jeevan ke haar morh peh...”
The boys remove their headphones as they weren’t needed anymore. Piercing the blur of rocks, the U-22 squad travels fast. A green turf awaits them.