Against the Red Dragons it looked like the away side’s head coach had finally found his best XI.

The Indian national team on Saturday heroically defended against neighbours China, regularly revered as the best team in the South Asian region. The match ended in a goalless draw and while it may surprise a lot of people, there were a lot of chances for an Indian victory. Needless to say, China dominated possession and hit the crossbar and the upright, but India, too, were far more convincing going forward.

The Blue Tigers impressed everyone with short passing and the quality of chances, they created

Let’s pick out players that deserve a mention, try to understand how they contributed and changes from them that may help the team in posterity.

Subhashish Bose

The former Bengaluru FC defender is in a zone of his own. Constantine’s current blue-eyed boy, Bose started over Anas Edathodika, dislodging the Jhingan-Anas pair for the first time in over two years in a key game. the full-back displayed maturity and a lackadaisical calm while defending, easily heading and made short work of the Chinese attacks.

Going forward, the lad needs to work on his crossing – a lot. Subhashish can be called India’s most improved player in the last six months, and may have pushed the talented Jerry Lalrinzuala off his pedestal. It also means that both Narayan Das and Anas Edathodika will need to be at their best, knowing that there is danger lurking on their starting positions.

Bose adds a new freshness to the backline, with speed and a different sort of calm. Amidst the sturdy Sandesh Jhingan and always heart-on-sleeve Edathodika, he is silently positive, never shows too many emotions, and is always ready to make the forward move. Centrally, he is the thrust that is needed beside Jhingan. India will look to play a high-line during the AFC Asian Cup and a fast centre-back is a boon for such a defence.

Anirudh Thapa

The youngster from Chennaiyin FC is a natural player

Anirudh Thapa is India’s second most important player in the outfield after Sunil Chhetri – arguably. The youngster has taken the opportunity to become India’s #8 with both hands and has lapped up every little chance that’s come his way. Against China, he displayed such rigour that Thapa is being expected to lead the midfield next year.

However, there’s one thing that he needs to do. Thapa needs to add passing on the run to his repertoire, to make him complete. The youngster will not get impressively tall anymore, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a natural player. The Chennaiyin FC lad won a lot of balls, linked-up well with Pronay Halder and continued his development, but was too late in releasing balls when on the run.

Thapa needs to pass the ball earlier and better – when he’s running with it. The only flaw in his game against China. Also, needs a little more work on his set-pieces. They’re fine for a 20-year-old though. It’ll come eventually, after regular sessions during practice.

Pronay Halder

Halder’s return to football after wilderness in injury has made Constantine the happiest of all. The burly midfielder isn’t just powerful with a presence, but also knows how to pass the ball. Playing in the key defensive midfield position, Halder takes a lot of bullets from the team. but comes out unscathed time and again.

The 25-year-old, however, should start spreading long, diagonal balls and long-distance attempts. There would be games when finding wingers will be the most important aspect of counter-attacks for the Blue Tigers and Halder’s powerful legs can help Constantine during those times and they just might, if he’s asked to slowly integrate that into his game.

His turning with the ball was top-notch against China and so was his defensive ruggedness. A massive, massive positive for India when fit.


Holicharan Narzary

Holi looked nothing short of enchanted in his games for Kerala Blasters during the first phase of the Indian Super League. Cometh the national team jersey, returns the man. Narzary, though, made his manager happy with a performance that was marked with defensive support to the erring Narayan Das and covering a lot of ground.

Burning grass, though, isn’t the sole task on a football pitch. It would then be called a faster format of marathon running. Narzary has been India’s first-choice left winger for over a year now and should start delivering precise crosses with more regularity. Narzary, even when he finds space, hits the long ball like an amateur, ruining a lot of counters. This happened against China twice.

This disrupts the positivity and attacking morale of the side and better quality should certainly be expected from the NorthEast man.

Stephen Constantine

Watch: China 0-0 India highlights

Brilliant, boss. Bose’s inclusion was a touch of confidence, of belief in youth and enough trust in their abilities. Udanta Singh and Thapa have been regulars for the Blue Tigers for a while now, but it seems the manager has finally found his best XI. The balance of strength and fluidity between Halder and Thapa, the rigidness and speed of Pritam Kotal and Udanta Singh and the hold-up play and creativity between Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua, India look to be hitting some right notes.

Jeje’s form, had it been on a high against China, would have given a new dimension to the away side. They were pretty close to a win, had chances been turned in or with a slight touch of luck. The luck bit, though, wasn’t with China as well, who were the better team for most of the game.

Constantine brought on Farukh Chaudhary in place of Jeje, another impressive move. It showed that the manager is willing to take the gamble, is willing to allow the runners to run and the players to play the ball behind defenders. Anyone stands a chance, and the times were dictated by the same set of players is changing. A new era is coming, and this could have a positive effect on young footballers. Well done, boss.