The Blue Tigers play Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in their final three games.
The Indian football team are all set to resume their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers next week. Head coach Igor Stimac has named a strong 28-man squad, as the Blue Tigers look to finish their campaign on a high.
Without a victory in five games so far, the Indian football team are currently second from bottom in Group E with just three points, a massive 13 off leaders Qatar, whom they play next Thursday. Failure to win the match would end their hopes of progressing into the next round.
There are a few important factors, though, which could be vital in securing the maximum available points if India get it right. Here are the five keys to success in the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifiers:
5. Show more attacking intent
On too many occasions in these qualifiers, Igor Stimac’s side have looked toothless in attack, lacking the flair to trouble the opposition defence and devoid of creative spark to conjure a gilt-edged chance. No wonder they had to wait until the dying moments to find an equalizer against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Its imperative for India to be more aggressive and create more scoring opportunities in the upcoming games to be in a position to get all three points.
4. Not to underestimate Bangladesh and Afghanistan
Bangladesh and Afghanistan are ranked below India. But, both sides managed to hold the Blue Tigers to a draw in their earlier clashes. Only late strikes from Adil Khan and Seiminlen Doungel respectively saved the Indian football team the blushes.
India were the favourites heading into these games, but the results offered a harsh reality-check.
While the Bengal Tigers came flying out of the blocks and pushed India on the back foot with their uncharacteristic offensive style of play, the Lions of Khorasan implemented a clear gameplan and made excellent substitutions.
It took India until the second half to wake up from their slumber and show urgency – something the side cannot afford if they are to clinch all six available points against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the reverse fixtures.
3. Identify the best midfield combination
India’s results depend largely on the performance of their midfield and coach Igor Stimac has named 14 midfielders. But, what’s the best combination?
Despite being the only debutant of the lot, Glan Martins is likely to walk into the Croatian’s XI, having impressed in the ISL whilst also possessing the ability to thrive under pressure. His penchant for crunch tackles could prove vital against sides like Qatar.
Joining him at the base of the midfield could be Anirudh Thapa, defensively resolute with an eye for a pass. He, along with Martins, will be the key to controlling possession and will provide the foundation for more offensive midfielders like Brandon Fernandes to launch attacks from deep.
2. Resolute defending in counter-attacks
India play their first game of the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Qatar, who are seeking to avenge the setback in their clash on Matchday 2. In the reverse fixture, the Crimsons tore the Blue Tigers apart on the counter. But, they were let down by some poor finishing in the final third.
Lighting never strikes twice. A similar scenario in their upcoming clash could prove detrimental to Igor Stimac’s men, who must step up their defending on the break. Shaping up into two banks of four could be one way to accomplish this, as pacy forwards like Almoez Ali and Akram Afif would not have spaces to run into.
It would also require the deepest midfield duo, Thapa and Martins, to read the game brilliantly and abstain from venturing too far ahead, which might leave the backline exposed to counter-attacks.
1. Fielding the strongest possible XI
Sounds very simple, right? But, not for Stimac. He’s struggled to find his best XI and made some questionable calls in the past. Even in the most recent 6-0 shellacking at the hands of the UAE, the Croatian was criticized for leaving out experienced players like Subhasish Bose, Udanta Singh and Pronay Halder, whose pace and strength on the ball will be vital in the upcoming qualifiers.
With Sunil Chhetri back in the squad, the coach might be tempted to play him in the striking role again. But, Manvir Singh has shown the caliber to lead the line. Playing him in the No. 9 role flanked by Chhetri and Bipin Singh would bring more attacking flair.
Martins and Thapa will play ahead of the back four comprising of Pritam Kotal at right-back, Sandesh Jhingan and Chinglensana Singh as the center-back duo and the talented Akash Mishra on the left.
The 19-year old Hyderabad FC full-back was the only defender who started in both their recent friendlies and has made a convincing case to start in the qualifiers too. Gurpreet Singh is likely to take his position between the sticks ahead of Amrinder Singh.