The Blue Tigers have gained much from the tournament but it is important they build on it in the months to come.
India lifted the Intercontinental Cup 2018 in style. Captain Sunil Chhetri led from the front with eight goals from four games and was supported well by Udanta Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, young Anirudh Thapa and the resolute Pronay Halder. Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Pritam Kotal also played their roles to perfection, as the Blue Tigers prepared with gumption for the AFC Asian Cup next year.
Subhashish Bose and Thapa left their marks on the tournament and look likely to play more definite roles in the future for the national team. Here, we take a look at the five most distinct pointers that came out exclusively from the recently-concluded tournament:
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5. Pronay Halder is back with a bang
If the Indian midfield did not feel out of place in any game, the credit goes to this man. After two injury-plagued years in the wilderness, Halder returned to the national team and how! After a stop-start Indian Super League campaign at FC Goa, the burly midfielder worked on his fitness at the national camp and outdid Rowlin Borges, one of the constants for the Blue Tigers in recent times.
Halder’s positioning, his right usage of physicality, the change of wings and the way he exchanged close passes with Thapa, shows that India has someone who has both the rigour and calmness to his game. Halder, for many, has been one of the best influences to this victorious team and his immense application and contribution bodes well for the Asian Cup. India needed pace, presence and positivity in the centre of midfield and Pronay added all of it.
4. Stephen Constantine means business
A special mention must be made of this man, who may not have done wonders, but has really added both security and dynamism to the side. A quick look at the starting XI presents the team in two halves. The defensive side is compact, with compatibility and good understanding. The one that needs to create chances has speed (Udanta), has the dynamism and a will to go forward (Thapa), and hold-up play up ahead (Lalpekhlua).
Making all of this work is obviously one man, the dependable Sunil Chhetri. With eight goals in four games in the tournament, the striker proved to his detractors again that he needs no description and waved a warning to his opponents at the continental showpiece. Constantine, on the other hand, proved he’s willing to make changes and Bose and Thapa’s introduction to the first XI defies accusations of favouritism in the team.
Final match highlights: India 2-0 Kenya
3. Indian players have worked on their positioning
Positionally, India have come leaps and bounds and it was down to their understanding and cohesion on the pitch that they managed to grind out desired results. Halder was always present on the centre-circle, the right position for a defensive midfielder and a transitioner. Thapa was always a willing contributor, putting in fine and hard-working displays whenever he was on the pitch.
Bose displayed great maturity and the compositeness of the Edathodika-Jhingan pair shows how far they’ve come together. A special mention for Udanta Singh and Holicharan Narzary wouldn’t go amiss. The wingers were effective in their supportive roles to the full-backs and need to add on their attacking abilities.
Lalpekhlua and Chhetri, as a pair, were almost unflappable. At every throw-in close to the opposition box, Jeje chested down the ball to the Indian #11 or vice-versa. Positioning, feeding off each other and the right link-up play, are attributes that India need to go far, or even make a mark, at the Asian Cup.
2. Ashique Kuruniyan had a forgettable debut
The colourful career (so far) of a colourful lad, Ashique Kuruniyan was much talked about after he was selected for the Indian national team for the Intercontinental Cup. The man certainly lived up to his billing, but mostly in training sessions. His work-rate and confidence to take on the opposition certainly can’t be questioned, but his effectiveness would surely be under the scanner.
Kuruniyan still has the Villarreal loan tag on him and that probably plays at the back of his mind. The youngster needs to recycle possession more when the need arises and needs to slow the game down, as it suits India. Kuruniyan, at times, tried to feed Chhetri but failed. Kudos to his attempts. The lad has a long way to go and should keep this one hurdle aside, which he, let’s be honest, failed to cross.
1. More pros than cons from the Intercontinental Cup 2018
India came into the tournament with fans begging for the better opposition as Kenya, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei virtually came with their second or third string sides. Nonetheless, the more football the national team plays together, the better. At this critical juncture in terms of preparation, the Blue Tigers would do good to their confidence and cohesion by just playing and playing more.
The rise of Thapa and Bose, although questionable in terms of quality of opposition, still looms positively on the mood in the current situation. Chhetri, after a solid season at club level, has now found ominous form with the national crest, much to the liking of the fans. The fans united under one banner, notwithstanding Chhetri’s plea and cheered the side as they cruised to three smooth victories in four games.
Looking at the bigger picture, India had more pros to look at than cons to worry about after the victorious tournament. The team sought much-needed game time and earned that. They ideally need to play at least 15-20 games against different types of opposition to prepare for the big test and this was not far from the same.
Opposition players in the form of Sarpreet Singh and Ovella Ochieng helped our defences to the group and regroup together. Attackers from the opposition camp helped Gurpreet to sync in well with the defensive shape. It also allowed Bose to settle in well and it always helps to have more options. The Blue Tigers now look at the Asian Games and the U-23 players will look at this opportunity to stake their claim to the man at the helm.