The Indian football team might have ended their winning streak with a 1-1 draw against St Kitts and Nevis but there were plenty of positives for coach Stephen Constantine to take from the Tri-Nation Series. The team, playing their first competitive matches of the season, were rugged at times, but offered a glimpse into how they will shape up in the future with the likes of Nikhil Poojary and Anirudh Thapa impressing in their debuts.
Here are three talking points from the match:
Rowllin in the deep
Rowllin Borges is turning out to be an excellent deep-lying midfielder for the team. Paired with the attack-minded Eugeneson Lyngdoh in the central midfield, the 25-year-old Goan was the key to all the good things India did against St Kitts. He bullied the St Kitts midfielders out of possession and was also the key distributer for team — his curling cross to Jackichand Singh resulting in India’s only goal of the match.
If Constantine is planning to persist with a 4-4-2 formation even after the arrival of Bengaluru FC players Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri, then having hard-working, box-to-box midfielders will be essential for India’s progress. Borges ticked all boxes against St Kitts and was even more effective in attack than Lyngdoh. The latter has struggled in his new, slightly defensive avatar and might struggle to keep out the likes of Pronay Halder, Milan Singh and Dhanpal Ganesh in the future.
Batman needs Robin but does India?
There was a considerable difference in how India played the first halves against Mauritius and St Kitts. In the first match of the tournament, India struggled to get a stranglehold on the match with the full-backs just knocking the ball high in the air for their forwards to chase. Against St Kitts, India were much more comfortable in possession and relied on short passes till they got into good attacking positions.
What was the difference? In the first match, Robin Singh started as Jeje Lalpekhlua’s partner up front while Balwant Singh was the chosen one in the second. Balwant offered tireless running which was important for India to sustain their high-pressure pressing. His presence also meant India didn’t take the aerial route that often which allowed the likes of Jackichand and Halicharan Narzary to be more influential in the game.
While Robin used to be a menace for defenders in his prime years, the forward struggled to do much in his stints in both matches. He did not look match fit and didn’t aid in pressing up front which allowed the opposition to take the attack in India. A bullish striker is only a menace if the team is suited to that type of football and India looked way better keeping the ball on the ground and playing short passes. Once Udanta and Chettri returns, we might well see Robin’s stint in the Indian team end.
A stable back four
There might a lot of criticism around coach Constantine’s persistence with a 4-4-2 formation that is often known as the ‘English style’. India’s footballers aren’t the big and dynamic men who can play that ruthless form of football. The North East belt, which produces maximum number of footballers in the country, is known for its pacy, diminutive attackers than men capable of holding play for the rest to join.
But whatever the critics might say, the formation has helped build a solid defensive line. The four-in-the-back formation, reminiscent of a classic English back four, with marauding full-backs Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das, and a centre-back pairing of no-nonsense Anas Edathodika and ball-playing Sandesh Jhingan, seems to be the best combination India has had in a recent while.
Sandesh is dominating in the air and ensures his back four holds shape while the full-backs are constantly seen bombarding forward to aid the midfield in attack. Constantine sees Jhingan as a future captain of the Indian football team and he showed enough evidence of his leadership abilities in the tournament. Even though India conceded two goals in the tournament, one can only believe the back four will get better once the season starts. With the likes of Jerry Lalrinzuala and Prabir Das ready to step in when needed, the future is bright for the Indian defence.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017 13:57 PM