Stephen Constantine’s tendency to frequently tinker with his lineup could cost the Blue Tigers against more formidable opponents.
Regardless of which sport it is, a clash between India and Pakistan is a mouth-watering prospect. Similarly, the semi-final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 played between the neighbouring rivals was full of excitement and plenty of talking points that must be put under the lens.
The mood before the game was electrifying, to say the least. Both teams gave their all on a pitch that was not up to the mark, making the game a right old slugfest.
Therefore, we shift our focus towards the top five talking points that emerged from the semi-final clash between India and Pakistan at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Watch: India 3-1 Pakistan highlights
1. Manvir Singh’s class and him staking claim to a regular national team spot
The FC Goa striker was instrumental in India’s win over their arch-rivals. His brace early in the second half ensured India’s victory. Manvir had also scored in the fixture against the Maldives and is looking hungry for more.
The Punjab-born striker has shown maturity beyond his years and his consistency will be hard to ignore for the gaffer. Manvir would want to break into the senior national squad as a starter in the backdrop of his brilliance in the ongoing tournament.
It remains to be seen if he will feature in the final due to the injury he suffered against Pakistan, that resulted in him being stretchered off and losing out on a chance to grab a hat-trick.
2. Ashique Kuruniyan’s wizardry on the wing drowned Pakistan
Ashique was unplayable on certain occasions and delivered dangerous crosses from the left wing. Pakistan’s full-backs were outmatched by the pace and quality displayed by the man from FC Pune City. The frontman delivered when it mattered most, contributing with two crucial assists that resulted in goals for Manvir and Sumeet Passi.
Judging by his stellar performances in the tournament up to this point, it’s safe to say he will play a vital role if India go on to defend their crown in the final.
3. Constant shuffling of the defense cost India a third consecutive clean-sheet
Prior to the semi-final, the Indian defense had been unbreached. However, the constant rotation and personnel changes by head coach Stephen Constantine had caused instability in the heart of the backline. For this fixture, captain Subhashish Bose was shifted to a full-back role with Sarthak Golui filling in the centre-back’s position after replacing Jerry Lalrinzuala for the match against the Maldives in the group stage.
The shuffle backfired as Sarthak’s misplaced header allowed Hassan Bashir of Pakistan, a free shot at goal that resulted in India conceding their first goal of the tournament.
4. Midfield maestros Vinit Rai and Anirudh Thapa continue to shine
The pairing of Vinit Rai and Anirudh Thapa at the heart of the midfield of the Blue Tigers has been fundamental to their success. While Thapa has impressed with his work-rate and composure on the ball, Rai has matched him step-for-step.
Vinit was the unsung hero in India’s semi-final victory in which he went on to contribute with an assist for the second goal. Add to that, he further helped the team’s cause with crucial tackles and clinical passes in both defense and attack.
5. Chhangte’s moment of weakness could cost India dearly
The Blue Tigers ended the match with 10-men as Lallianzuala Chhangte was dismissed by the referee on the stroke of the 85th minute for an off-the-ball altercation with Mohsin Ali of Pakistan, who also received his marching orders as a result of the scuffle.
Consequently, India will be without the services of the winger in the upcoming final against the Maldives. Chhangte played a big role in the second goal after coming on as a substitute. But, he’s now set to miss the final due to suspension.
While fans all over the country celebrate the victory over their bitter-rivals, Constantine will be focusing on readying his troops for one final push against the Maldives on Saturday, for another SAFF Suzuki Cup triumph.