Intercontinental Cup 2019: Coach Igor Stimac makes 'long-term' gains for India despite disappointing defeat to DPR Korea
India lost the Intercontinental Cup tie to DPR Korea by the margin of 2-5 but the match helped coach Igor Stimac to get a better idea of his side's strengths.
India took on DPR Korea in their second match of Intercontinental Cup 2019 with two different sets of goals – short-term and long-term.
New coach Igor Stimac has been quite trigger-happy as far as the changes are concerned in the starting line-up of the Indian side in all the competitive matches that the side has played under the new Croatian gaffer.
Twenty-eight changes had been made by Stimac including the starting line-up against the Korean side. There are no hidden agendas. For Stimac, the ultimate target is the upcoming World Cup qualifiers that begin in September this year, as he tries to find the perfect team and squad for more valuable matches.
Twenty-eight goals were conceded by the North Korean side in their last seven international games before they met India at the TransStadia Arena in Ahmedabad on Saturday. They lost the tournament opener against Syria by a margin of 2-5.
Last year, India defeated Kenya in the final of the same tournament and have the weight of being the defending champions on their shoulders. After losing the first match 2-4 against Tajikistan, they needed to win this one to make their way to the final a rosy path but it couldn’t be as they lost 2-5 on the night.
They are still not out of the tournament’s race. A win against Syria in the next game and a win for Tajikistan in the next match against Korea with desirable margins could still push India’s boat to the bank but that will be wishful thinking.
The gain from the match for India coach Stimac, however, doesn’t seem to be wishful thinking. After a horrible defensive performance against Tajikistan, the Indian side witnessed a host of changes; nine in total, including a clear shaving off the defense line. Amrinder Singh replaced Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the goal while Jerry Lalrinzuala, Subhasish Bose, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal started the match replacing Mandar Rao Dessai, Narender Gahlot, Adil Khan and Rahul Bheke.
The focus was clearly on sending a riper defensive back-line, however, the crucial decision to keep Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Udanta Singh and impressive Lallianzuala Chhangte on the bench clearly indicated that the aim still was the ‘long-term’.
If the first-half against Tajikistan was about Chhetri’s brilliance and India’s dominance as they took a 2-0 lead to the half-time before capitulating in the second half, the first 45 minutes against North Korea showed no mercy to the local fans.
The visiting side was 3-0 up at the midway break with captain Jong Il-gwan scoring two goals. The Koreans who are generally known for playing narrow formations took advantage of lack of pace on Indian flanks as they attacked with a high line defence and with the fullbacks creating pressure on the Indian midfield and defence.
Schoolboy errors from young Amarjit Singh Kiyam and others in and around India’s 18-yard box allowed Koreans to dictate terms. First goal of the match came from a set-piece as Jong converted a direct free-kick from outside the box. One goal led to numerous lapses of concentration on part of India defenders as Sim Hyon Jin cut past Sandesh Jinghan and sleeping Pritam Kotal to score the second.
Jong headed another one past ordinary-looking Amrinder to score the third goal of the first half before Jhingan was forcefully substituted for a hamstring issue. The defender did not start the last game with a minor niggle.
“I forced myself into the game and it was a wrong decision and I take full responsibility,” Jhingan said after the match.
Stimac finds ‘long-term’ solution
Despite the result, the second half showed a glimpse of things to come. Chhangte and Udanta, who replaced Brandon Fernandes and Manvir Singh, quickly lit up the atmosphere with their pace and darted runs.
With the new additions on the field, Chhetri was provided a new lease of life as he laid off a brilliant ball for Chhangte to pull things back for India with India's first goal.
Thapa and Sahal also made their way to the middle and soon India became a different proposition. They started pressing up higher and started creating more opportunities. The confidence rubbed off on other players as Rowling Borges, who was completely anonymous in the first half, started winning balls in the midfield.
Defensive errors did not leave India’s back, however, as they leaked two more in the second half. Individual errors and lack of focus in some way dominated India’s overall performance and the focus must stay on ironing out those faults.
However, there were a lot of positive for Blue Tigers from the match.
“In the second-half, we started taking responsibility, and created chances. We were dangerous in front of their goal. But it was difficult to keep shape, and go up and down continuously. But I'm proud of the way they played,” Stimac said after the match.
“Now, we know who we have got. What we have and what we don't have. And now we can make plans for future.”
India were a completely different side under former coach Stephen Constantine with direct approach ruling the roost over keeping ball possession and passing on the ball. The approach is different now under Stimac, the ideas are different.
He has made his changes and done his experiments. And now with the ‘long-term’ goals being sufficed, fans would now expect some good ‘short-term’ results.
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