Thiruvananthapuram: India's 26-year-old centre-back Arnab Mondal is carved just like a centre-back should be — tall, muscular. Flamboyant and aggressive on the field, as he needs to be, he is quite reserved off it.
"First matches of a tournament are never easy," Mondal talked about India's SAFF Cup opener against Sri Lanka. "They had won their first game and were defensive, but we had to play our game."
The Indian defensive line didn't have to break a sweat against Sri Lanka who took to the field with an ultra defensive approach. They barely went forward and never came close to rattling the Indian defence.
But India's next game is against a tricky opponent. Nepal won't be defensive. They'll be quick in attack, especially since it's a must win match for them. And India don't have comforting memories of facing off against Nepal. The last time these two sides met in August in an international friendly, India was left red-faced after a 0-0 draw.
"The past is past. We take every game individually. Tomorrow is a fresh match and we will play for 3 points. And be it Sri Lanka or Nepal, we focus on our tactics and play how we want to," Mondal said.
The East Bengal and Atletico de Kolkata defender doesn't let many emotions show up on his face, but his voice is sincere.
Mondal is enjoying his defensive pairing with Augustin Fernandes in the SAFF Cup. Though the men in blue are missing the solid Sandesh Jhingan and Enas Edathodika owing to injuries, Mondal believes Fernandes' and his partnership is working well.
"We have played together in the ISL for Atletico de Kolkata and we have an understanding. I hope Sandesh recovers as soon as possible, but Augustine is a good defender and we both have adjusted really well. There shouldn't be a problem," Mondal said.
Mondal had taste success with Ateltico de Kolkata in the inaugural edition of the ISL. This time around Atletico fumbled at the penultimate hurdle when Chennaiyin got better of them over two legs in the semi-finals.
"This season was much more intense and the quality of players was better. Atletico had better attacking options this time around," he said.
But losing in the semi-finals was disappointing for Mondal. And just a few weeks later he's here with team India for the SAFF Cup. Is it difficult for him to pick himself up, and motivate himself in such a short duration?
"I don't need any separate motivation to play for India. When you wear that blue jersey, that is enough. I feel pride in wearing that jersey and want to give my 200 per cent. ISL is at its place, it's a short tournament. Fine we didn't win the trophy, but when it comes to playing for India I don't need any extra motivation and I believe that's how other players feel too," he put it strongly.
"Personally and for the team, I want to win this SAFF," said the centre-back who's playing this tournament for the third time.
Mondal believes that India is a young squad and it will take time for everything to click. But it's the right direction for the Blue Tigers.
"Constantine, since he has come, has focused on developing the youth. Coach is trying for a setup of 15-20 players with whom the team can go forward in the future. It will be good for Indian football. I really like coach's thinking and I believe in him. Results will take some time, you can't expect things to change in a month," he said.
The centre-back praised India's young brigade and said the team had found good balance with young and experienced players. On one hand where team India had Sunil Chhetri, "the best leader on the field", it also had the 18-year-old Mizo sensation Lallianzuala Chhangte.
"Zuala has got quick feet and he is very hardworking. But he needs some time. People need to be patient with him, he is very young and we cannot demand too much from him now," Mondal praised the DSK Shivajians youth player who was handed his first senior cap against Sri Lanka, becoming the youngest player to play for India.
Mondal was also happy with abundance of goalkeeping talent that India has right now, again a mixture of the young and the experienced.
"Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was brilliant throughout the World Cup qualifiers. We can see that his confidence is sky-high right now. But a lot of that is due to our goalkeeping coach Rogerio Ramos. His practice sessions are brilliant. Karanjit Singh too is a good goalkeeper. And Gurpreet also has Subrata Pal. He is a senior, and he gives him great advice," Mondal said.
India faces Nepal on Sunday and Mondal is confident ahead of the match. "We know Nepal well and have played them many times, and they know us too. They are a good team and never let a match go. We'll have to be more focused and will have to give more against them than we did against Sri Lanka."
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Updated Date: Dec 27, 2015 15:48:23 IST