The Blue Tigers lost both matches on the tour.

On March 23 and 26, the Indian football team played two friendlies against Bahrain and Belarus. These matches were sought as preparation for the Blue Tigers’ upcoming AFC Asian Cup Third Round Qualifiers, which are to be held in June. Igor Stimac had a 25-man squad at his disposal and he used most of his players across these two matches.

Unfortunately, India lost both games. The score read 2-1 in favour of Bahrain in the first match. The second one ended 3-0 in favour of Belarus. Being well ahead of India in the FIFA rankings, it wasn’t easy for Stimac’s men to play these two sides.

In this article, we will discuss five things we learned from the Indian football team’s tour of Bahrain.

5. Assessing the youngsters

Danish Farooq and Naorem Roshan Singh
Danish and Naorem were among the player to make their national debut (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

It was a good opportunity for Igor Stimac to assess the youngsters at his disposal. He used almost each of them, apart from Prabhsukhan Gill and Jeakson Singh (injury). The youngsters got some useful minutes in both the games. Though the team’s performance wasn’t at its best, perhaps Stimac has received a view of where the future generation stand.

The youngster who shone the most was Naorem Roshan Singh. The solitary Indian goal on this tour was scored by Rahul Bheke and that too, from Roshan’s assist. A negative point might be the presence of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in both matches. After a magnificent ISL campaign, Gill should have received at least a half to showcase himself and also make his senior Indian football team debut.

4. Giving Manvir Singh more games as a No. 9

Looking forward, India might be facing a crisis upfront, mainly in the No. 9 position. Sunil Chhetri is likely to announce his national retirement following the AFC Asian Cup 2023. At such a point, India should focus on a smooth transition. At this moment, the country has a few potential strikers, namely, Rahim Ali, Ishan Pandita and even Manvir Singh, who operates more on the flanks.

In terms of seniority, experience and goalscoring ability, Manvir looks like a more compatible figure to be showcased as the No. 9. Hence, the 26-year-old should be given more chances in that position.

3. Lack of a well-defined style of play

Igor Stimac
Stimac has won just 6 of his 25 matches as India head coach (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

In May, Igor Stimac will complete three years at the helm. Being a former Croatian international and a player of stature, it is astonishing to witness that he has failed to implement a well-defined style of play. If we look at the two friendlies, the Indian football team played a three-man backline against Belarus and a four-man backline against Bahrain.

If we speak of the previous outings, in most of India’s games, the attacking perspective looked less. Even against weaker opponents (in the past), we have seen India play more defensively. The team needs to develop a trademark style of play. Also, worthy of addition will be another point that the performance of the side has dipped in recent times. India may have won those particular games, but the charm was missing. Yes, on some occasions, India have done well. For example, the SAFF Championship tournament. But there are plenty of matches when India have struggled.

2. Subhasish Bose not the answer at left-back

Subhasish Bose is a good footballer. He has been a standout performer for ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL. But, with regard to the national team, preferably the likes of Akash Mishra will be a more suitable alternative for Igor Stimac.

Undoubtedly, Bose possesses tremendous defensive prowess and is a well-built character. But, probably Mishra can add more fluidity on the flank.

1. Has Sandesh Jhingan done enough to be an automatic pick?

Sandesh Jhingan
Jhingan returned in national colours after almost a year (Courtesy: AIFF Media)

In this edition of the ISL, we witnessed the rise of Ruivah Hormipam and the comeback of Anwar Ali. Last season, Hyderabad FC defender Chinglensana Singh rose to prominence and attracted fans. The 24-year-old played really well this season too. Meanwhile, Sandesh Jhingan was off to Croatia to ply his trade for HNK Sibenik.

He got injured and didn’t get a chance to showcase his talent. Jhingan came back and signed again for ATK Mohun Bagan. Eventually, he played a few matches this season.

Did Jhingan really do the best to get a place in the Indian football team for the friendlies? Has he been good enough to be an automatic choice? India comprise a pool of talents in that position, but the think-tank has stuck with Jhingan. Yes, he is one of the best India have.

But, on this tour, the focus should have been on youngsters like Ruivah and Ali. Anwar played the entire match against Belarus, while Ruivah was substituted late in the game against the same opponents.

Even Chinglensana Singh, who was fabulous in the ISL, was fielded in the 76th minute against the Europeans. Moreover, he didn’t get a chance in the first friendly against Bahrain. Meanwhile, Jhingan played both games in their entirety.

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