New Delhi: Even as he donned the national colours for the final time, Bhaichung Bhutia was already thinking of how the exhibition match against Bayern Munich would benefit India.
The hosts were brushed aside by their superior German opponents in the first half on Tuesday, going down 4-0, but recovered well enough to ensure no more goals were added to the scoresheet post the interval.
India coach Savio Medeira felt his players were initially overawed by the Bayern stars.
“The boys got carried away by the big names at the start and they did not play to their full potential. They didn’t play at the level which we expect from them, nor did they communicate with each other or push up the field,” he said.
“In the second half, the fresh legs which came on helped us. The boys were a lot more eager to give everything they had and we played a lot better than we had in the first half.”
Bhaichung agreed. “In the first half, we conceded silly goals. We could have done better. In the second half, we showed character and belief. We know the difference in standard and it’s anyway not the right time to play Bayern at the moment, given the kind of form they are in. But the second-half commitment and fighting spirit that we showed as a team was excellent, and overall I think the guys played well.”
All eyes, though, were on Bhaichung, as the former skipper took the field for India for the very last time. Having retired earlier in August due to injury, the team and the fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium ensured the Indian hero was given a rousing farewell.
“It was a great honour. I did not really expect to last till the 86th minute, but I did. I think the crowd was amazing. I didn’t expect to see such a big crowd in Delhi. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
And Bhaichung believed the match would do good to his teammates. “For me, Bayern are a great club with a great history. So just to see these players in action was good. A lot of the youngsters in the Indian team can now get inspired, as they have seen what the standard is.”
The India coach also drew some positives. “These players have played for the first time against one of the best teams in the world. They will learn from the experience,” said Medeira. “I think the scoreline will also give us lot of confidence to prepare for the future, whenever we play against lesser opponents.”
The biggest inspiration however, according to Medeira, comes not from the four-time Champions League-winning Bayern side, but from the man who has hung up his boots after serving India for 16 long years.
“For the last 16 years, we have seen the commitment level he shows on the field. Once he is on the pitch, he gives his hundred percent. That is lacking in many Indian players. If that kind of commitment level which he can still show even today, if the current players can pick it up, then we can have many more Bhaichungs like him, and that is what we need in Indian football.”
So should he perhaps play for a bit longer?
“I think I am going at the right time,” laughed Bhaichung. “Savio has done a great job since taking over, winning the SAFF Cup, and I am confident that we will see more good performances and better results from the national team in the future.”
But it will have to be done without Bhaichung. A new chapter begins in Indian football.