The stunning pitch at the Salt Lake stadium was the perfect canvas for an almost perfect picture of what Sudeva’s Hero I-League season promises to be. Here is a hint at the reaction within the team after the scoreless draw with Punjab FC
Sudeva Delhi FC Media
Going into the game, on January 29, there was nothing to separate us from RoundGlass Punjab FC. There was plenty of talk in the media about Punjab fielding one of the strongest teams in the competition, while Sudeva was branded the new kid on the block. So, the boys were hyped. The fine stage, the shiny dressing room, the return of the team loudspeaker helped get the energy levels all the way up on matchday.
The night before the game there was drama in the camp. Shortly after Chencho Dorji named his playing 11 in the pregame tactical briefing, the AIFF medical staff informed team manager Dinesh Negi that Abhishek Ambekar’s latest Covid 19 test had returned positive. While we were all certain this was to do with test accuracy (Ambekar joined the team from SC East Bengal and been through at least eight tests since then), both Ambekar and his roommate Pawan Joshi were isolated and immediately tested again. Both became ineligible for the Punjab game, though. Ambekar was set to start in place of William at left-back. It was a tough situation for the players. They had come out of quarantine only on Jan. 25 and now would have to go back to their rooms for a repeat procedure. Both have since tested negative but the AIFF protocol demands three tests over a six-day period before they can rejoin team activities. We are happy to report both players are looking at the event, though frustrating, as a reality of the pandemic that could happen with anyone.
On the pitch, William, who has played all the games so far, rose to the occasion superbly when called on to start again. Though naturally a winger, Dorji has used William as a left-back to decent effect this season and the Punjab game showed that he is growing both in confidence and into his position. With typically excellent cover provided by Sairuat Kima, Sudeva managed to keep Punjab’s most dangerous player on the day, Chencho Gyeltshen, in check.
Central defender Gursimrat Gill wore the captain’s armband and was a vocal presence at the back, as usual. After the game, he reflected the positivity in the squad. “Obviously we play for three points,” Gill told us after the game. “But five points from as many games is not a bad position to be in as far as the league is concerned. We have had tough games, back to back, against Churchill, Kashmir and Punjab and come out stronger and more confident. Now we push even further.”
Club president Anuj Gupta is with the squad in Kolkata and was in the dugout for the game. “I think we are creating a lot of chances and we have been starting games positively,” he told club media after the game. “But at this level, you don’t get a whole lot of easy chances so we need to learn fast and start putting the ball in the back of the net. That said, we did well against a good side and I can only be proud.”
After the game, Dorji also reminded the team of the reality of living with a pandemic and how important it is to not become complacent even in the relative protection of the bio bubble. “Our first job is to be fit, stay safe and make ourselves available for selection,” Dorji said. “Then, I think, a top-four finish is a realistic possibility.”
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