The India probables went through some agonising moments against the newly-formed Bengaluru FC before salvaging a 1-1 draw in a friendly before winding up their camp at the Bangalore Football Stadium.
The Indian team was under intense pressure and only in the last quarter of the game did they have an upper hand. The highly impressive Liberian linkman Johnny Menyongar put Bengaluru FC ahead when he converted a penalty after Robin Singh had been brought down just around the half-hour mark.
But midfielder Lenny Rodrigues scored a stunning goal from 20 yards out as his right-footed half volley rocketed into the top corner late in the game for what turned out to be a face-saving equaliser.
The Indian think tank had spent more time in ensuring that the match was kept secret and the public and the media were denied entry. The stadium gates were locked. It was only after the Karnataka State Football Association president AR Khaleel asked them to allow the media and the public in, did they relent.
But on seeing correspondents inside the stadium, the Indian team refused to play and threatened to walk off. Again Khaleel put some sense into them and only after a call from the All India Football Federation headquarters in New Delhi did they agree to play. The crowd enjoyed the game and applauded the teams.
It was not surprising, as coach Wim Koevermans did not want the press to have a look at the team. He also knew that Bengaluru FC was a strong team and a defeat would be embarrassing. The team has not done well, losing all the friendlies it has played under him. But if the team is afraid of defeat, how can it ever win?
There seemed to be little or no firepower in attack. The midfield lacked ideas and the distribution left a lot to be desired. The defence was brittle and was beaten by the sharp moves Bengaluru FC created. The saving grace was goalkeeper Subrata Paul who pulled off no less than three superb saves.
With England’s John Johnson and Kenyan Curtis Osano in defence and the skilful Menyongar in midfield and Australian Sean Rooney up front, Bengaluru impressed a lot and but for Subrata, they would have emerged winners.
Koevermans has many loose ends to tie up if India are to defend the SAFF Cup title as teams like Bangladesh, Maldives and hosts Nepal have prepared better this time.