The Bengaluru FC youngster was one of the shining lights of India’s brief campaign at the continental showpiece.
Heading into the AFC Asian Cup, not many expected India to play the most full-fledged attacking football in a difficult group. However, one could vow that if Udanta Singh was let to run riot, he would be the difference-maker for the Blue Tigers. That prediction came true in the group stages, where The Flash’s pace was the quintessential core of India’s attacking moves throughout.
Watch: Against Thailand, Udanta had a very silent first half, but after the interval he had a hand in two goals for his side
Udanta went into the Asian Cup high in confidence, having performed really well for Bengaluru FC before the break. Being one of the fittest attackers for the Blue Tigers, it didn’t take him much time to adapt to the surroundings. When coach Stephen Constantine played a wildcard by playing Ashique Kuruniyan through the middle, Udanta seized the opportunity to run free on the right.
Against Thailand, he was prolific in helping record India’s biggest win in the tournament. While his compatriot Sunil Chhetri stole the show, it was Udanta’s fantastic work in the second half which inspired the success. While he was relatively quiet in the first half, threatening occasionally, the team-talk at the break did Udanta all the good. His brilliant chemistry with Anirudh Thapa meant he instantly received the ball to run down the right wing, before showing amazing maturity to lay it back for Chhetri to score.
However, he wasn’t done just there. He realized how experienced left-back Theerathon Bunmathan wouldn’t be able to cope with his pace and gave him the run around with his movement. However, the winger’s unique ability to roam out of position created an unpredictable factor about India. He was at it again in the 68th minute. Upon realizing that a counter-attack was brewing, he slid into the middle with Chhetri and Ashique, deep in the center-line.
In the loss to the UAE, Udanta had a bright showing with an effort which hit the upright
Udanta’s clever run was found by a terrific pass which sent him through on goal. However, upon realizing that he couldn’t score from a difficult angle, the Bengaluru winger showed an incredible maturity. He laid it back to his pal Thapa, who scored with a beautiful dink. Thailand had been dealt the killer blow and Udanta had slewed off all the energy form their defence, who couldn’t do anything about Jeje Lalpekhlua’s strike later on.
While Chhetri and Thapa received the lion’s share of the plaudits after the win, it was Udanta’s clever movement and unpredictability that had stung Thailand the hardest. The game against the UAE was a whole different affair. The Blue Tigers retained the momentum coming off the thrilling win against Thailand and Udanta looked as dangerous as ever on the right.
The Flash gave Alhasan Saleh a good share of problems with the way he wiggled around on the right wing. Singh again showed impressive awareness to find Thapa in the first place, allowing him to place a inch-perfect cross which was headed by Chhetri into Khalid Eisa’s palms. After going down, Udanta showed real urgency to get the equalizer.
He shone through in the second half, getting his moment in the spotlight when he played a brilliant one-two with Chhetri before his shot thundered off the crossbar. Had Lady Luck been on his side, Udanta would’ve been celebrating his first ever continental goal. However, after that sparkling moment, the winger caught a rough tackle with the UAE players trying to physically intimidate him. He had to be substituted as a precaution.
In the loss to Bahrain, Udanta put in a good shift in India’s defensive display
One thing which was especially encouraging about Singh was his willingness to track back and defend throughout the tournament. With an experienced candidate in Pritam Kotal behind him, Udanta knew he had freedom going forward, but always came back to help his compatriot. He made some notable challenges in all the games, but produced his most noteworthy defensive showcase in the crushing loss to Bahrain.
In a game in which he was seldom allowed to go forward due to India’s rigid approach, Udanta proved his defensive strength pretty well. He tracked the movement of the left-sided players, keeping them contained with strong challenges and preventing them from crossing the ball into the box. He couldn’t do much about the last-minute penalty, but showed bundles of energy by working extremely hard for the cause.
The Flash of India was cool, composed and most importantly an absolute pain for his opponents on the right wing. Udanta’s electric pace, coupled with his ability to pick out the right passes worked wonders. One could think about whether India’s fortunes could’ve been different had his shot gone in against the UAE. But, Singh’s promising showing in the Asian Cup proved one thing- the boy has now grown into a man.