Intercontinental Cup: India's loss to New Zealand puts spotlight on hosts' lack of squad depth

India's unbeaten run at the Mumbai Football Arena came to an end with a 2-1 loss to New Zealand as a much-changed Indian side failed to put in a good performance. It highlighted the lack of depth in the squad. With six months to go for the AFC Asian Cup, coach Stephen Constantine will be troubled by the performance of his back up squad.

With seven of the regular starters rested, Constantine started with Mohamed Rafique, Ashique Kuruniyan and Balwant Singh to support captain Sunil Chhetri in attack.

Rowlin Borges started alongside the ever-impressive Anirudh Thapa in the middle of the park. Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika were replaced by Salam Ranjan Singh and Subhashish Bose in the heart of the defence while Amrinder Singh started in goal.  Of the seven, only Amrinder and Salam played the entire match.

India's fringe players failed to take their chance as The Blue Tigers went down to New Zealand. AP

India's fringe players failed to take their chance as The Blue Tigers went down to New Zealand. AP

It was a game of two halves for the Kiwis attacking-wise. The All Whites peppered the Indian box with crosses from either side knowing that their attackers could get the better of the Indian defence without the aerial prowess of Anas and Jhingan. Sarpreet Singh and Jai Ingham were afforded a lot of time and space by Das and Kotal to swing in delightful crosses towards the back post. Fortunately for Amrinder, the Kiwis were wasteful in front of goal and could direct their headers on target.

India opted to send in long balls towards Balwant but the Punjab striker lacked the height or the physical prowess to win headers against the Kiwi centre-back pairing. The times that Balwant did win headers, there wasn’t any Indian player at hand to pounce on the loose ball. India tried to create from the wings too but Rafique and Kuruniyan were wasteful on the ball. Rafique’s night came to an end in the 28th minute when Constantine hauled him off as Udanta Singh joined the Indian attack.

In the post-match conference, Constantine simply said Rafique ‘struggled’ in his short-lived outing and to be honest, that is putting it lightly. On the basis of last night’s performance, it is hard to see Rafique finding a spot in Constantine’s squad for the AFC Asian Cup.

India’s only chance in the first half came towards the end when Balwant’s cushioned header off Ashique’s cross fell kindly to Chhetri, but the normally reliable skipper sent his volley over the bar from close range.

The only positive for India in the first half and also the match was Thapa’s showing. The Chennaiyin man covered every blade of grass trying to make things happen for India. Despite his diminutive frame, Thapa didn’t shy away from challenging for the ball and regularly out-muscled the Kiwis off the ball.

Constantine rang in the changes at halftime as Jeje Lalpekhlua came on for his 50th appearance in national colours. Halicharan Narzary and Pronay Halder also came on in place of Ashique and the under-performing Rowlin Borges respectively.

Halder’s introduction provided India with steel in the midfield, something which Borges failed to do. The ATK man has formed a very good partnership with Thapa in the last three games perfecting the small man big man routine in midfield.

If the All Whites out-crossed India in the first-half, then they out marked and outplayed them in the second. The Kiwis pressed India higher up the pitch with man of the match Sarpreet harrying Kotal all night. Their tactics paid dividends as Udanta and Narzary were pegged back and were often seen playing as auxiliary fullbacks. That tactic isolated Jeje and Chhetri up top and the Kiwi centre-back pairing of Adam Mitchell and Samuel Brotherton were comfortably able to deal with the strike duo.

India took the lead in bizarre fashion two minutes into the second half when keeper Michael Woud’s attempted clearance rolled into goal off Chhetri’s foot. India’s happiness was short-lived as the Kiwis responded through Andre de Jong just a minute later. De Jong beat the offside trap to get on the end of Sarpreet’s through ball and finish coolly past Amrinder.

With the Kiwis coming dangerously close to claiming a winner, Constantine sent Jhingan on in place of Das to steady the Indian defence. However, Sarpreet showed his talent once again as he set up Moses Dyer’s winner four minutes from time.

In the end, India escaped with a narrow loss as the Kiwis’ wastefulness in the attacking third saved India the blushes. Last night’s performance from his back-up players wouldn’t inspire confidence in Constantine’s mind.

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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2018 17:52:08 IST

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