Thapa: We have to remain mentally focused despite all the bad news around

The National team is flying off to Doha on Wednesday to play the remainder of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers – which are against host Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Anirudh Thapa is yet to get his first COVID-19 vaccine jab due to unavailability of enough doses.   -  FILE PHOTO/R. RAGU

The news of human suffering and death caused by the pandemic is having a traumatic effect on the minds but as a professional footballer one has to stay focused on giving his best for the country. Anirudh Thapa, a key midfielder of the Indian National team, said this while adding that the news of losing close ones to COVID-19 is creating an atmosphere of despair all around. This remains a big challenge for every player, who has got a call-up to represent his country in the upcoming 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers in Qatar.

The National team is flying off to Doha on Wednesday to play the remainder of the qualifiers – which are against host Qatar (June 3), Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).

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“The last few weeks have been difficult with the COVID situation because the infections are increasing and we keep getting news that some of our close ones have passed away. It is difficult to focus because there is a fear that we and our family members might also get infected with the virus. Everyone is concerned about that and we are trying to stay focused and follow the protocols specified to us by our coaches,” Thapa said during an interaction.

Thapa, who is considered one of the best midfielders currently in the country, said the players picked by head coach Igor Stimac for the upcoming assignment have been kept mentally fit by special modules created by the strength and conditioning coach Luka Radman, who is popularly known as the Professor among the players.

“We were all aware that we have the matches in June and we kept preparing for it in the confines of our home. We were following the programmes that Professor was sending us in the group in order to stay fit and keep ourselves ready for the upcoming assignments,” Thapa said.

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When asked about the reason behind India’s recent 6-0 debacle against UAE in a friendly in March, Thapa said it may have happened because Stimac was testing the youngsters ahead of the big assignments.

“What he [Stimac] is now trying to do is find the best players for each position. That is the reason why he gave debut to so many players in the last round of friendlies India played in Dubai. There has been a lot of disruptions owing to the pandemic but when the team – the seniors and the newcomers – comes together we are sure to get the best result for our country,” said Thapa.

Referring to the challenges brought about by the strict protocols imposed in a bio secure bubble created for the players and coaches, Thapa said it is always important to have hobbies to remain mentally strong in such situations. “It is very difficult to adjust sitting in a room as you cannot go out anywhere. You have to be mentally very strong and as a professional you need to be prepared for what is coming up. If we do not concentrate then we are liable to make mistakes. I think it is important to have hobbies to stay focused when in a bubble, like reading books, listening to music or watching movies. This will help us grow as well as stay focused on our job ahead,” he said.

Thapa said that everyone is trying to help each other to ensure that the rebuilding process is smooth. “It is sometimes difficult when new players are joining the team. When we practice together as a squad we try to adjust to a philosophy while getting to know each other’s style and game. But when new players come it takes time for everyone to make adjustments. We may have played against each other as opponents [in the club level] but it is different to have them as a teammate,” Thapa said.

“When in the national team we need to understand that every player is there because he is considered good in what he does and we need to help him settle in the squad. We try to help each other by offering advice and also talk with each other to understand his playing style and his thought process to get the best communication on the ground,” he added.

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