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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

What went wrong for India and Igor Stimac in draw against Kuwait?

Published at :June 7, 2024 at 7:07 PM
Modified at :June 7, 2024 at 7:07 PM
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Uttiyo Sarkar

Sunil Chhetri played his last game for the Indian football team.

India played out a frustrating 0-0 draw against Kuwait in their penultimate 2026 FIFA World Cup second-round qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday (June 6). The Blue Tigers were toothless in front of the goal, not being able to create any chances for captain Sunil Chhetri in his farewell match.

The draw meant that India are still not qualified for the third round of qualifying, with Afghanistan getting a point against Qatar too. Igor Stimac actually needed goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to save his side’s blushes with some excellent saves to deny the charged up Kuwait side.

The Croatian manager failed to generate an exciting performance from his players, who suffered from the same issues that plagued them in the previous qualifiers against Afghanistan. Here, we look at what went wrong for the Croatian gaffer in this drab draw.

Absentees of key players

In his defence, Stimac was missing a few important players who are vital for ensuring the smooth operation of his tactics. One of the major players who missed the game was influential midfielder Apuia. The absence of Apuia’s presence was felt heavily, as India struggled to drive the ball through the central areas or properly play the ball out of their own half. His slick passing, ability to retain possession were also missed.

Stimac was also without two of his regular defenders for this match in Sandesh Jhingan and Akash Mishra, both of whom are injured. Jhingan often plays a key part in the build-up play with his brave forward passing, while Mishra would’ve arguably added a more attacking drive and creativity than debutant Jay Gupta, who was too defensive in his debut. The addition of these players could’ve helped the Blue Tigers move the ball forward more often with confidence and also potentially put Kuwait under more pressure.

Strange early substitutions

After a drab first half outing, in which India failed to get a shot on target, Stimac was forced to make early substitutions. He probably went into panic mode and took off Anirudh Thapa, who created three goal-scoring chances and delivered dangerous set-pieces, as wlel as Sahal Abdul Samad.

Rahim Ali was brought on, but missed a golden opportunity to score soon after coming on. Brandon Fernandes, to his credit, was able to open up the Kuwait backline with slick forward passes more often than any Indian player could in the first half.

But these panic substitutions didn’t really help energize the Indian side or bring that something special. The changes were also a bit strange considering that Stimac has been working on implementing his tactics for these qualifiers into his squad for a month-long camp now. He opted against trusting the approach that has been drilled into the team for the entirety of the preparation camp, and started making tweaks to his system, which didn’t really give the necessary impact at all.

Lack of a goal-scorer

India headed into this game against Kuwait with a pretty poor goal record in their last five home matches. In that period, the Blue Tigers only scored three goals and were in desperate lookout to change that in Chhetri’s farewell match. However, the India captain was not able to exert his authority and in his defence, he never really received the ball in any prime goal-scoring position either.

But when some opportunities were created, there was a lack of a proper goal-scorer. Rahim Ali couldn’t capitalize on what he got, while a few attempts were also wasted from set-pieces – while the likes of Liston Colaco or Sahal Abdul Samad didn’t help themselves with clueless long-range attempts for the spectacular. Stimac isn’t directly responsible for his forwards not being able to convert chances, but it’s clear that the finishing aspect of the game is not being focused strongly enough on the forwards.

Playing time issues for attacking players

There is also the aspect of the attacking players who played against Kuwait struggling with their game-time. Apart from Chhetri and Chhangte, the ones who featured aren’t really undroppable tarters for the Blue Tigers. Liston Colaco made a rare start (after impressing in training), but he failed to create much or dribble his way into promising scoring areas.

Sahal is coming off a lengthy injury lay-off that forced him to miss a large chunk of the second half of the 2023-24 ISL season. Rahim Ali also made another rare outing for the Blue Tigers in the second half, while Brandon Fernandes missed a few key games for FC Goa in the final stretch of the previous domestic campaign.

More importantly, the likes of Liston, Ali, Fernandes and Sahal just haven’t regularly played enough international games under opponents of this stature to know how to be totally ruthless in finishing them off. This caused sloppiness in India’s attacking patterns, even though Brandon did create some chances but still struggled with his questionable set-pieces.

What Stimac can do is, given these players are injury-free, to start playing them regularly and help them gather enough experience to realize how to finish off games against sturdy opponents like Kuwait.

Not clinical enough

At the end of the day, what cost India from gaining all three points from Kuwait was the lack of efficiency in the team. The Blue Tigers have just not been clinical enough for arguably all their matches in 2024, which has resulted in four losses and two (goalless) draws. India were again very frustrating to watch in the stalemate against Kuwait, failing to really make their backline work or deliver enough quality balls into the box to trouble their defenders. But when some half-chances came their way, the Indian players failed to make much of them either.

Be it Ali’s one-v-one attempt, some opportunities or set-pieces or even Manvir Singh’s late header, the players just weren’t able to tap in their ruthless streak in finishing off whatever they could conjure. Stimac has definitely fixed India’s defensive structure and made them a mean defensive unit (even without Jhingan), but it’s time to focus on developing a clinical streak to his team.

Unless the players can start converting these half-chances or genuine attempts, there is no reason to think of progressing to start competing with stronger teams.

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