The Indian national team defeated Myanmar in their own backyard for the first time since October 1953 with a positive tactical approach. . .
After playing a lucid second half in an International friendly against Cambodia, the Indian national team set foot on the ground after six days on Tuesday to face Myanmar in the first AFC Asian Cup qualifier. The game was being played in Thuwanna YTC Stadium, Yangon. With everything to play for, Stephen Constantine finally got it right tactically.
Let me take you through a tactical timeline of the match and India’s game-play in it. The Blue Tigers started with a 4-4-2, which kept changing to 4-2-3-1 whenever India attacked. With Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rowlin Borges as sitting midfielders and Jackichand Singh and Sunil Chhetri flanking them on the left and right respectively, India had the right mix of physicality in the centre of the pitch as well as enough speed and creativity on the wings.
Jeje, once again, proved how critical he is for the team to play the game higher up the pitch. The Mohun Bagan striker is probably the best striker in the country at the moment for hold-up play and allows his attacking teammates that extra second to come and make space for themselves. The Mizoram-born player linked up well with Jackichand and Sunil on various occasions, with only the final ball lacking.
Khel Now has written a lot of articles on the National Team, but none of them had suggested/ideated what Constantine did on Tuesday. The English coach played a high line, which is seldom seen in the sub-continent. While on one side it means a lot of fast running and tactical understanding from his centre-backs, it also means he’s willing to take the risk and responsibility.
The move worked well. For teams who are sure to play the ball in between the lines, it is often a risk worth taking. It gives the goalkeeper that extra yard to come out, make himself big and block a shot/attempt if one good ball comes through. In the 20th minute of the game, a similar thing happened. Ko Ko ran through the Indian defence in between Kotal and Jhingan, but the high-line helped them and the Myanmar No. 10 was caught offside.
The move also allowed Jhingan, Anas and Gurpreet to express better on the ball. Like Khel Now has previously said, Anas and Jhingan are one of the better ballplayers in the National circuit and should be used more wisely, something which happened against Myanmar. They looked in tune and this partnership should go strong for at least the next four years.
Sandesh Jhingan was in his zone on Tuesday evening as he nullified every Myanmar attack around him with superior decision-making
Although Pritam and Narayan were also solid as full backs, Khel Now’s best player in the defensive stable was Sandesh Jhingan. After the game, I wondered if this is the same player who was playing for Bengaluru FC in this I-league season. Jhingan was pinpoint in his defending, made some key interceptions and was easily one of the best players on the pitch tactically. Adding to that, the centre back displayed his speed at through-ball situations, burnt a lot of grass and ensured his coach’s faith was rightly put.
Let’s take a little more in-depth look at the high-line. Teams which play fast, creative football on the ground are very dangerous in and around the box as it gives them the license to finish a move with one-two or three touches, minimising the chances of error. Myanmar, a side which plays with the ball at its feet and with swift touches, would’ve done exactly that. Credit must be given to Constantine for reading the opposition well.
The coach ensured the high-line was maintained and in the second half, a Myanmar forward often strayed offside to pull the defensive line down, which commendably managed its concentration and shape. Acceptingly, the hosts did manage to play a few balls in between the lines and behind the defensive line, but the space between the last line and the goalkeeper ensured Gurpreet had enough time to collect/clear his lines. The goalkeeper should also be lauded for his role as a sweeper, something he has learnt new.
More often than not, this is the area a football match is won or lost. If you own a midfield, you own a game (Read: Xavi and Iniesta). India fielded its wrecker in chief and creator in chief here and were rewarded for the majority of the game. In Rowlin Borges, India had its own version of a lesser creative Blaise Matuidi. Borges was on fire throughout the game, and his energy was a delight to watch. The Goa midfielder showed his abilities well and this performance should be good enough to keep Pronay Halder out of the XI for some time.
#El Capitano Sunil Chhetri yet again proved why he’s the go-to man in Indian football. Chhetri scored the winning goal in the 90th minute of the game
Eugeneson, though, looked a little off-color. The former Shillong Lajong midfielder took that one extra second in playing the ball forward, which gave the fast Myanmar players enough time to dislodge him and his impeccable balance at times. Having been caught napping, Eugeneson then played a safer and less productive ball, something not worthy enough of the high capabilities he possesses. The fact that Lyngdoh strolled in the middle of the pitch in the last ten minutes of the game was not a great sight.
On the flanks were probably India’s best players of the evening, Sunil Chhetri and Jackichand Singh, and later, Udanta. While Jacki did miss two good opportunities in the first half, one of them an absolute howler, it was still a good performance from the former Royal Wahingdoh winger. The player gave the opposition defence its moments, taking them on and beating them at speed, their own game.
On the left, Sunil was himself. The captain expressed himself, worked hard and showed why he’s rated the best in the country with a classic finish in the last minute of the game. Running about 95 meters after fighting for 89 minutes shows his tremendous ability, fitness and dedication to the cause. After today’s game, I believe Chhetri thrives against opposition who take him on physically. It pumps him up and that showed again on Tuesday night.
The team did not change to a diamond 4-1-2-1-2 while attacking, as Eugeneson usually sat parallel to Rowlin. Rather, they took a more pragmatic 4-2-3-1 or even, a 4-2-2-2 at times, with Jackichand and Chhetri pushing higher than the two midfielders joining Jeje, or Jeje joining Robin up top. While this threw in four attackers, it still gave the team enough defensive stability and security, something India should play with at away games.
While there was no hard tactical bearing on the attack, both players had specified roles. Jeje was asked to play hold-up which is his strength and Robin was asked to be the target man for the odd-chance falling in India’s favour. While the second one did not happen, Jeje played his part to near perfection starting the attack for the goal in the 90th minute.
While we saw a positive tactical output on Tuesday evening, Indian football will need to redress three of its major shortcomings in the times to come. Full backs Narayan Das and Pritam Kotal will need to find some inspiration from their youth days and hold on to the ball more. The players need to shed their clubs’ footballing philosophy of hit-and-run and try and keep more possession.
Midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh must do a little soul-searching to inspire the National team again. The creative No. 10 has been one of the better players in the country in the last few years and the Blue Tigers will surely benefit from his resurgence if that happens. Otherwise, players like Isaac and Milan, or a higher playing Brandon must be considered in the national team setup to create things from the middle of the pitch.
The most important problem which faces Indian football right now is the lack of a quality goal-scorer other than Sunil Chhetri. The captain has scored 53 times in 93 appearances and doesn’t seem to be in the mood to stop anytime soon whenever the need arises. The National team coach must find someone or some tactical system which would see other players sharing the goal-scoring duties.
Although it was heartening to see the team play to its strength, a little more impetus must be given on the physical fitness of the players. The intensity in the first quarter of the game was one of the best I’ve seen in recent times from the Blue Tigers, and their will to win and to challenge was clearly visible on the pitch. If India completely throw ourselves in for victories, India might happily accept draws or even defeats against better opposition.
It was a good feeling to see Constantine change from his much-favored 4-3-3 to a formation more suited to the opposition. The Indian coach, finally, GOT IT RIGHT!
The Indian National team is set to rise to their highest FIFA ranking since 1999 and India must justify that with their football in the days to come. While they must keep the good work on, a little more comfort on the ball would do not harm to the team. Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson are players who like to play with the ball at their feet and Constantine must try to devise a system which helps the two best Indian players.
Summing it up, we’re glad to say that Stephen Constantine, finally got it right. While some of his decisions will still invite ire, his opposition reading and adeptness according to the situation deserves to be applauded. The coach played the best system against a fast, attacking team and his team was only pulled back by individual errors, something he cannot change if he’s not on the pitch. We hope he keeps organising his team the way he did against Myanmar.
Please leave your comments in the section below.