This was only Igor Stimac’s second win since taking over as the Blue Tigers’ head coach.

India finally managed to garner three points in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Bangladesh in a group stage match in Doha. This was the Blue Tigers’ first victory in a World Cup Qualifier away from home in 7332 days!

A much-needed victory that will add a breath of fresh air and confidence to the Blue Tigers, the 90-minute display was disciplined, mature and to the strengths of the team. Sunil Chhetri scored a brace, which could easily have been a hat-trick or even more and India need to continue the good work against Afghanistan later this month to ensure a third place finish in the group.

On that note, let’s move on to an analytical view on the game.

The formation

India’s starting XI against Bangladesh

India started against Bangladesh in a 3-5-2 with a double pivot of Suresh Singh Wangjam and Glan Martins covering the midfield behind Brandon Fernandes’ creativity. The FC Goa and India No. 10 was brilliant and a little more for the entirety of his time on the pitch against Bangladesh. Everything he touched turned into gold and he should have walked away with at least two assists. However, at the final whistle, he had none.

Martins and Suresh marshaled the centre of the park well, but contributed little or nothing going forward. Suresh came up with the assist for Chhetri’s second goal, but it would be nice to see him attack the ball and spaces more. However, there can be no complaints about the duo’s hard work. They burnt every inch of grass on the pitch and were nothing short of brilliant. 

Up top, Manvir Singh and Chhetri played together and looked out-of-sync on several occasions. Both players press a lot and on several occasions, attacked the same ball or ignored it for the other to press. These chinks in the armour can only be ironed out if they share the pitch together consistently. The pair also needs to shoot more to make the most of the half-chances that come India’s way. 

With Sandesh Jhingan playing centrally flanked by Chinglensana Singh to his right and Subhasish Bose to his left, Igor Stimac had gotten the shape right. But, his wing-backs weren’t performing to the best of their abilities. Bipin Singh in the left wing-back position had just one cross to show, while also ruining a half-chance. On the opposite side of the pitch, Udanta delivered his first cross in the 40th minute.

Udanta’s hesitancy clearly shows his lack of confidence. India need their ‘Flash’ back to his best as soon as possible. Ashique Kuruniyan came on and made a lot of positive impact down the left. His floated cross was well-placed into the bottom corner by Chhetri, who shows no signs of ageing – a blessing for Indian football. 

The control

Brandon Fernandes was one of India’s most impressive players on the night

Fernandes, India’s No. 10 and rightly so, did everything today. The flawlessly well-weighted through ball for Manvir, auspiciously delicious corners and free kicks for his teammates to attack and even some long-rangers on target – you name it, he did it. In the 15th minute, he found Manvir at the back of the Bangladesh defence, but the India forward failed to capitalize. Chinglensana had his header saved off the goal-line in the 35th minute and Chhetri miscued an easy header in the 63rd.

The Goan, meanwhile, kept pinging passes to the opposite wing with ease and accuracy, as if he was playing in a zone of his own.

Chinglesana and Subhasish also did a lot of positive things, forward passing, looking for runners. Sana grew tired by the end and misplaced some passes, but was mostly good on the ball. Both Suresh and Martins need to show brevity in passing the ball forward. They have the wherewithal to win it back if they lose it. In some instances, they had straight forward passes in their line of view, but didn’t even attempt them. This needs to be addressed.

Someone like Anirudh Thapa would be a massive addition in the midfield to share the workload with Fernandes against better opposition. 

The bottomline

One or two could be debatable, but every other player earned his place in this team. No experimentation from Stimac at this hour of urgency shows that the man knows what he needs to do. A strategy was tailor-made keeping the opposition in mind and the players worked hard to apply that on the pitch. India had 74% possession in the game and made 623 passes – 407 more than their opponents. That’s the sort of dominance India had in the game.

The team played Stimac’s brand of keeping the ball and cruised to a comfortable victory. At no point in the game did the team look threatened or even jittery – a sign of confidence. Improving the conversion rate and forward passing of his defensive midfielders should be on the to-do list of the Croatian manager. 

Against Bangladesh, India found a proper starting XI for the first time in just over two years. This team had the right amount of pace, creativity, defensive resoluteness and versatility. It would be nice to see Stimac re-start with this team in eight days’ time. A victory after 11 games in a much-needed encounter was a delight and serves the adage –better late than never!

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