International friendlies: Depleted and woebegone Indian football team fail Jordanian battle
Amidst logistical chaos, India coach Stephen Constantine was forced to make a handful of changes to the Indian team. The second string side punched above its weight, but it wasn’t good enough for Jordan.
Stranded at the Kuwait International Airport for over 32 hours with missing player kits and team equipment, as many as seven Indian national team players along with support staff were left frustrated en route to Amman. The clash between India and Jordan, the first-ever meeting between the two nations, nearly didn’t take place with the fixture initially being called off over logistical chaos caused by bad weather conditions.
In a change of events close to nine hours prior to kick-off, the match was given the green light. While this meant that the Blue Tigers’ prolonged, tiresome travel to the Middle East wouldn’t go in vain, it also suggested that the visiting side would be deprived of its key players, courtesy of lack of recovery hours. Lining up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, India saw several forced changes in the starting XI. From playing defensive midfielder Anirudh Thapa in strike to deploying defender Jerry Lalrinzuala on the wings, Stephen Constantine picked his players from ones that were fully fit and well rested.
The Indian team, with no primary striker in the line-up, struggled from the word go. Jordan, on the other hand, were focused on the playmaking from the beginning, making sure the Indian contingent failed to get hold of the ball. Passing the ball from one end to the other, the Indian team was left spectating at the ball possession of the opponent.
The visitors were handed their first shock of the night as early as the eighth minute with Pritam Kotal being guilty of awarding a penalty to Jordan. However, from the spot, Bani Attiah spurned the chance to give his side the early breakthrough as shot stopper and Indian skipper for the night, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, pulled off a diving save. The loose ball, which was aimed at the net by Al Bakhit in a reviving attempt, too was blocked by the custodian the very next moment.
In the 21st minute, Constantine’s boys had the chance to break the deadlock through a set-piece opportunity. Releasing the ball from the corner, Thapa’s delivery was met by Vinit Rai at the far end, only to be blocked by the army of Jordanian defenders crowding the 16-yard-box.
Trouble came calling the following minute, thanks to a misjudgement by goalkeeper Gurpreet. Failing to control an awkward bounce off a dropkick from the opponent goalkeeper Amer Shafi, Sandhu let past him the ball after being wrong-footed to concede the first of the night at the King Abdullah International Stadium.
Jordan could’ve entered the tunnel at the half-time whistle with more than a goal’s lead had Baha Faisal not missed a sitter minutes before the break, among other missed chances from Vital Borkelmans’ men.
Jordan looked the better side in the first half, enjoying the lion’s share of possession. Dominant and steady, they preyed on India’s defence which saw a poor display from Pritam Kotal and Subhashish Bose.
Taking lessons from the sidelines, gaffer Constantine introduced an attacking change replacing Jerry Lalrinzuala with Ashique Kuruniyan. The substitution helped the side improve its passes in the midfield, but the confidence couldn’t last long as Jordan doubled their lead in a counter-attacking move.
Retrieving the ball in their own half, Jordan built the action from the back on the counter. Stringing passes from the middle and charging up front, Ahmed Samir laid the ball for Ihasan Haddad, who sealed the second goal with a sensational finish, leaving Rai, Thapa and others without a response to Jordan’s pace.
Trying to immediately make up for the deficit, Nishu Kumar was brought on for Jackichand Singh. The debutant found himself on the scoresheet just three minutes after Jordan’s strike after Germanpreet Singh’s low cross from the left set him up beautifully. Unmarked in front of the goal, Nishu released a left-footed shot which sailed over the goalkeeper.
The goal boosted India’s morale to fight for a possible draw.
Failure to get at the end of a Narayan Das corner-kick in the dying moments of the match, meant Pronay Halder added his name to the list of players who had a game to forget.
With ball possession of 34 percent compared to Jordan’s 66 percent, it was clear that India never really had hold of the proceedings on Saturday night. Lacking the services of talisman Sunil Chhetri due to injury, and current first-team regulars Udanta Singh, Halicharan Narzary and Jeje Lalpekhlua amidst logistic troubles, team India put up no attacking display. The ‘Expected Goals’ data proved India’s inadequacy in building attacks, with India possessing xG rate of 0.22 as opposed to Jordan’s 2.13.
However, the result and the performance wasn’t unexpected. The depleted Indian team, for reasons aforementioned, did well as per their calibre. And, given the hours they were granted to train as a unit, it was quite expected to see them struggle for cohesion. The Indian side tried to put up a fight, but in the end it fell short.
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