The Blue Tigers badly missed the influence and leadership of their suspended captain and talisman Sunil Chhetri.
The AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers came to a disappointing end for India who saw their 13-match unbeaten streak abruptly halted as well when they lost 2-1 to Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek.
The big news of the day came with the debut of young Lalruatthara, who put in a commendable performance on a day when India’s “experienced” defenders seemed to be missing. The night started badly for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as Krygyzstan scored just two minutes in when Anton Zemlianukhin’s unstoppable attempt went sailing past him.
The Blue Tigers lacked a real leader on the pitch and standing in between the posts, Gurpreet could only do so much to motivate his compatriots, as the might of Sunil Chhetri was being sorely missed.
This Kyrgyzstan team had thrashed Myanmar a few days earlier and their booming confidence was telling, as they dominated possession and looked to put pressure on the inexperienced Indian players. With India showing no signs of danger going forward, Rowlin Borges’ thunderous free-kick rattled the crossbar and worked as a sign of motivation for the Colts to pile on the pressure on Kyrgyzstan.
While the whole Indian attack looked futile in the early going, one man who stood out was Jeje Lalpekhlua, who used his strength and clever movement to be an absolute menace for the Kyrgyzstan defense and was creating all the big chances for his side. Despite a period of promise, India’s hollow midfield threatened to churn up one disaster after another, as the hosts penetrated through the middle and went close on multiple occasions.
The pitch conditions were just as sloppy as India’s midfield, which was slipping up too many times and inviting pressure from the hosts which almost allowed them to double their lead early in the second half, forcing an excellent save from Gurpreet to keep his side in the game. Stephen Constantine showed his confidence in youth when he brought on Jerry Lalrinzuala and Seimelen Doungel early in the second period, with the latter being the spark India needed. But, he too, showed his inexperience with some poor decision-making in the final third.
The sloppiness came back to haunt the Tigers when Kyrgyzstan capitalized on a mistake in midfield from Rafique (who was thoroughly poor in the center of the park) and made India pay for going to sleep defensively by comfortably putting the ball past captain Sandhu and put the tie to bed. That strike ended up being the final nail in the coffin of India’s undefeated streak, which was in danger the moment Chhetri became unavailable.
India seemed to be badly missing the “glue” which binds them together and nobody seemed to be brave enough to make their voice heard and motivate the boys to go forward. When everything looked lost, the only man who looked threatening in attack for India, Jeje provided some light in the darkness when he scored late in the game to instill some hope for the Blue Tigers.
But, that wasn’t enough for Constantine’s men, who will now be praying for Lady Luck to give them a lenient group in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.