The Indian side exited from the tournament on a positive note with a draw against Syria.

In what was a much more improved performance since suffering two consecutive defeats in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019, India managed to hold Syria to a 1-1 draw at the EKA Arena by TransStadia. Teenage defender Narender Gahlot was given a start once again after the Tajikistan game and the youngster went on to become the hero on the night as he opened the scoring for the Blue Tigers with a thumping header in the 51st minute.

However, Syria’s man-in-form Firas Alkhatib scored from the spot to put his side back in the game after a foul by Jerry Lalrinzuala in the box.

Let’s have a quick glimpse at the talking points of India’s final game of the tournament.

5. Are India over dependent on Chhetri to score?

Sometimes it feels very grateful to have a striker of Sunil Chhetri’s calibre in the team. However, at the same time, watching games like Syria, it is quite frightening to know that the team deprives of goals when the skipper doesn’t score any.

It is quite amazing how the 34 year-old’s goalscoring touch is still intact, but the Blue Tigers cannot afford relying on his brilliance anymore. With the young new strikers like Jobby Justin, Manvir Singh and Farukh Choudhary in place, India need to seriously find a new talisman who could carry on the goalscoring legacy of Chhetri.

4. Did the referee get it wrong to disallow Syria a second penalty?

For the majority of the game, Syria looked dominant and were too stubborn to lose possession of the ball. Yet time and again they failed to find the right break to score past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Moreover to their misfortune, the Blue Tigers pounced upon a rare opportunity from a corner to lead the game at the hour mark. 

Finally in the 78th minute, Firas Alkhatib who was certainly at the top of his form, stepped up to score from the spot following a foul in the box by Jerry and brought the scores level. Within five minutes of the equaliser, Jerry once again seemed to be involved in a penalty incident as he pulled Alkhatib’s shirt to bring him down inside the box. 

Lucky for the youngster, the referee gave a foul instead to India as Alkhatib looked in disbelief. In fairness it was a very close call for the referee but it certainly was visible that the left back had pulled the striker’s jersey as he went past him.

Had it been given a penalty, it could have been a totally different story to tell.

3. Should Stimac had opted for Subhasish rather than Jerry to replace Mandar?

With Sandesh Jhingan injured and Adil Khan suspended, Igor Stimac named Narender Gahlot and Mandar Rao Dessai once again in the starting lineup. However, the duo did fairly well this time as they were hugely improved versions of themselves against Syria. 

In the second half, Mandar looked to have suffered with a knock and while most would have opted for the experienced Subhasish Bose to replace him, Stimac chose to bring Jerry instead. The 20 year-old was a disaster since the minute he stepped on to the pitch. Within the next few minutes, he had already played a couple of mispasses and even worse, committed a very silly foul inside the box as the Syrians capitalised from his error.

If that wasn’t all, the youngster was once again involved in a foul in the penalty area but luckily escaped by the referee’s decision. 

This brings us back to where it all started, should he have been brought on in the first place or should Stimac have taken a wise decision to bring Subhasish on instead?

2. Did the Blue Tigers put themselves under pressure with poor passing?

The game against Syria saw a quite improved performance from the Blue Tigers from the defensive point of view. But in terms of passing, it was simply disheartening to watch the team lose every second ball due to errors.

The result of these bad passes almost cost them a few times as the Syrian wingers lashed out in numbers with dangerous-looking counter attacking runs.

Moreover, the Blue Tigers’ heavy first touches showed the tremendous amount of pressure they were under. In the end, it all came down to their unnecessary long balls and bad first touches that made their life difficult, something the head coach might have to worry about.

1. Did Syria over rely on Firas Alkhatib?

Right since the start of the game, Alkhatib was threatening the new-look Indian defence with his slaloming efforts and shot attempts. The 36 year-old was too hot to handle for the young Indian defenders but they still somehow managed to keep him off the dangerous area until the time Jerry conceded the penalty.

However, if not for his brilliance, Syria’s attack looked quite blunt as they didn’t pose much of a threat in the attacking third, often losing the ball disappointingly.

Like India looked dependent on Chhetri to score a goal, Syria were dependent on Alkhatib as he looked to have taken the responsibility to lead the attack. On the same note, a question arises whether Syria could have managed to score if not for their talismanic forward?