India turned in one of their meekest performances on Tuesday against Guam — wilting 1-2 against Asian football's smallest nation. It was a performance without the drive, energy and purpose that they displayed against Oman when they lost by a similar scoreline in Bangalore five days ago.
India laboured in humid conditions on an artificial turf — and the contrast in approach that we witnessed in the Oman was unexpected and probably embarrassing. India were never expected to beat Oman — that they gave their heart out against a good side earned them deserved plaudits. But on Tuesday they were expected to beat a side ranked 33 places below them in the FIFA rankings. That they couldn't may be part and parcel of the game — but the manner in which they lost showed everything that is wrong with Indian football.
Lack of planning and preparation: Manager Stephen Constantine has spoken about the lack of time he has had with the squad. He said before the Oman match that he 'needs more time.' What Constantine needs is a viable schedule — the All India Football Federation (AIFF) are currently plagued by a packed and haphazard calendar. India went into their World Cup qualifiers without playing a single friendly and the squad have been together only for 10 days, while both Oman and Guam played two friendlies each in the run-up to their games.
A better schedule would have allowed India to practice more on artificial turf — one of the reasons why they struggled in Guam. More time would have allowed the team to gel better and more friendlies allowed the team to experiment a bit more with tactics. India looked disjointed against Guam — which points to another question — was the performance against Oman a one-off? If India can't perform under pressure from 4,500 fans on a tiny island in the Pacific, how can they hope to do better teams in bigger stadiums? Constantine simply needs more time, a better schedule and more practice games with a settled squad.
Instinctive long-ball play: It was surprising when Constantine said after the Oman match: "Believe me, I didn't ask them to play the long ball. That's not how I want them to play the game." India had resorted to plonking the ball forward in the final quarter of that match. It was worse against Guam — as soon as they realised that their opponents were pressing hard from the top, they resorted to the long ball after the first five minutes. It's sensible strategy if you have players like David Beckham and Andrea Pirlo in your team — or someone like a Dimitar Berbatov up top to control these passes. But India don't.
India have short, quick, stocky players with bursts of pace up front. We have midfielders who are physically strong but not phenomenal passers. This team shouldn't indulge themselves with long ball play — they need to be patient, pass, slow down the game and look for gaps. The Indians were physically stronger than Guam's players and they should have held on in midfield, frustrating their opponents. Instead they found it hard to string together more than four passes. As soon as they would spot an onrushing player the ball was sent sailing, invariably straight to a Guam player.
It was appalling to watch. It was schoolboy football.
The lack of a talisman: Sunil Chhetri is a hard-working forward — plays in the hole, and can, on his day, be an effective link between midfield and strikers. He scored his 50th international goal today, but apart from that hardly touched the ball. Robin Singh is a targetman. Jackichand Singh and CK Vineeth are young wingers. However, they struggled all game to dribble past defenders. In midfield, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Sehnaj Singh are not players who can play defence-splitting passes.
In short, India lack a player who can do something special, something magical on a fairly consistent basis. Chhetri's goal against Oman was special, but he cannot be asked to conjure up something similar in every match.
India lack a surprise factor: a player who can smack it in from 30 yards out. Instead, we had players taking speculative shots from close to the half-line that soared 20-30 yards over the top of goal. India lack a star midfielder who can send strikers through on goal with acres of green ahead of him or be a presence in midfield that opponents fear. We are sorely missing at least one such magical talent.
Until that sort of player comes through, India will have to rely on a pass and move strategy. And it's a strategy that yields victories.
Updated Date: Jun 17, 2015 14:22 PM