The Blue Tigers’ backline excelled against the Red Dragons whereas the other two departments failed to display their true potential.
India took on the mighty People’s Republic of China at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre in Suzhou, China in an international friendly. It was a historic game for the Blue Tigers, who were facing The Dragons for the first time since 1997 and for the first time in China. The result was just as historic, as the Men In Blue held the home side to a 0-0 draw, which underlines the progress the team has made over the last decade or so.
The Indian side did not just sit back and defend for 90 minutes, but also attacked whenever possible and came close to scoring on multiple occasions. With better finishing, especially from Sunil Chhetri and Fahrukh Choudhary, India could have actually won the game. It was a great match to watch and one that will give a lot of confidence to the side as they prepare for the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.
Watch: China PR 0-0 India highlights
Here are five takeaways from the game.
5. Wastefulness in front of goal cost China the win
China are ranked 76 in the FIFA rankings, 21 places ahead of India. To their credit, they dominated most of the game. They were unlucky not to score, as shots from Lin and Wu Lei both ricocheted off the crossbar in the second half. Moreover, profligacy from their forward Yu and some poor passing in the final third prevented them from registering a victory.
4. It was a backs-to-the-wall job for the Indian defence
Stephan Constantine, the Indian team manager paired Sandesh Jhinghan and Subhashish Bose in the centre of the Indian defence, while Narayan Das and Pritam Kotal were the full-backs. It was surprising to see Anas Edathodika on the bench, but one suspects that was because of his injury.
The backline was outstanding throughout the game, and captain Jhinghan was especially brilliant. Putting their bodies on the line on multiple occasions and man-marking the deadly Chinese attack to a degree of perfection, they made an excellent case for themselves and it was a memorable performance from them.
3. The Indian midfielders need to improve their link-up play
All top sides in the world are built on the back of a brilliant midfield, but India’s football in the middle of the park left much to be desired. Both Pronay Halder and Anirudh Thapa were excellent defensively, but offensively they failed to do much.
Thapa made a few forays upfront, but the overall gameplay was poor in the middle of the park. This made the transition from defence to attack much more difficult for the Blue Tigers and often left the attack stranded and inflicted more pressure on the back four. A playmaker that is calm on the ball and knows how to pick a pass would have been invaluable in the Indian setup currently, but it unlikely that one as good can be found that easily.
2. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu put in a heroic performance
Sandhu has been on the Indian football scene for a long enough time to know that this is the beginning of a new epoch in the country’s footballing scenario. Given his experience, especially in the Europa League, he is a part of the vanguard that is leading the youngsters into the future.
His performance in the game on Saturday, especially in the second half in which he foiled multiple attacks thanks to some excellent saves with both his hands and his feet, will not only silence his doubters but also seal his position in the lineup for the Asian Cup.
1. Stephen Constantine could have made better use of his resources
It is common knowledge that Stephan Constantine is a manager who likes to secure his defence first and then focus on the attack. It was also common knowledge that the mercurial Marcello Lippi, Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning coach is the manager of China.
However, having seen how the game transpired, one could only hope that Constantine had been braver and selected a few names who were playing well and not just the regular ones. Given that the Asian Cup is almost here, it would actually help the Englishman to bring a braver approach to his game and make the most out of this dynamic Indian side.