By Shrikant Shankar
Coaches play an important role in the fortunes of any team. At this year's SAFF Championship, south Asia's premier football tournament, India and Afghanistan are the only teams that have home grown coaches. However, the presence of Englishman Graham Roberts in Nepal's camp has, perhaps not surprisingly, attracted the attention of Indian football fans.
Armed with a CV that boasts of a playing career with the likes Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, West Bromwich Albion and Scottish giants Rangers, Roberts looks ideally placed to lead Nepal to glory in the Indian capital. Not that the pressure is weighing too heavily on the Englishman's shoulders.
"We have trained for six weeks, twice a day. I have given them an English-style training, they are good for the army. We will not play a 4-4-2 but a 1-9, full attacking formation" Roberts joked ahead of his side's Friday opener against the Maldives.
"Nepal are a very good team and we have been working on the physical aspect of the game coming into this tournament.
"Technically, we are very good and I taught them everything I know from my days in England as a player. We have played a few friendly matches and we are well prepared," he added.
Ranked 19 places above India in the FIFA rankings, Nepal have been installed as one of the tournament favourites. Not suprisingly, Maldives coach Istvan Urbanyi says his yuothful squad will be treating every game as a final.
"With no disrespect to Bhutan, every team can win the SAFF Championship apart from them," opined Urbanyi. He also talked about the Delhi winter, which could be a factor as many teams have not experienced such weather.
"The weather is fresh, not cold. Cold would be Norway or Switzerland, so, I think this should be a good tournament," Urbanyi said.
Nepal's clash with the Maldives is the second of Friday's games, with Pakistan's crunch game against Bangladesh set to act as the curtain raiser to this year's south Asian gathering.
"We have no pressure. Only weak players will take pressure. We should enjoy this tournament," Pakistan captain Jaffer Khan has told the press.
Pakistan's Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic added: "We have a lot of young players and all the teams (at the tournament) are at a similar level."
Dec 2: Bangladesh vs Pakistan; Maldives vs Nepal