In a case of old habits die hard, the Blue Tigers turned their back on many of the good things that had served them so well in the tournament.
Bahrain sent India on a long flight back home with a 0-1 victory earned late in the second half to break 1.2 billion hearts. The Blue Tigers did not do enough against the West Asian nation, in terms of keeping the ball and stemming the flow of the game and were subsequently punished minutes before the final whistle.
Watch: India 0-1 Bahrain, Goals and Highlights
Jamal Rashid’s goal in the 90+1 minute was the difference between the two sides, coming from the penalty spot, conceded by captain for the day, Pronay Halder. India, retrospectively, played their hearts out and made a name for themselves. Defeating Thailand 1-4 in the opening encounter and treating hosts UAE to some unreal attacking football, India did not throw in the towel easily. In the history books, though, it will go down as just-another effort from a sleeping giant in global football that continues to sleep.
We take a look at some of the most important talking points from the game. Leave your opinions in the comments section.
5. Sandesh Jhingan deserves all the accolades
The Indian defence was widely criticized in all quarters after the 2-0 defeat against the UAE. Against Bahrain, Anas Edathodika’s 2nd-minute injury could’ve run a death knell for the Indian vanguard, but for one man – Sandesh Jhingan. Reminding the nation of his Pune FC days, the Punjab-born defender was so valiant that it is hard to remember him losing any challenge – and no, it’s no exaggeration.
He was that good. Jhingan slid in at every given opportunity and he won all of them. Aerially, until Abdulla Yusuf had come in, no one even came close to beating him. Jhingan, it seemed, basked in the absence of Anas and the added responsibility of taking the nation home. In the Keralite’s presence, there is a division in decision-making. Against Bahrain, Jhingan ran the show and bouy oh buoy- he did that and how!
4. What was Rowlin Borges doing on the pitch?
Borges couldn’t fill Thapa’s boots
Against the big, smooth Bahrain side, playing Rowlin Borges was not really a tactical fault. Stephen Constantine needed to bolster India’s midfield, with two tall, powerful midfielders who are known to plug holes. However, one of them, Borges, didn’t look to be in sync with the team. In the first half, the NorthEast United midfielder made three unforced errors that led to shots from Bahrain, the worst from any Indian player.
The man did grow into the role in the second, but Anirudh Thapa, the youngster he replaced, would have been so much more revitalizing every time India had the ball. Borges did not contribute anything in attack either, and thus, it was a poor, poor show from the Goa-born lad. His relationship with midfield partner Pronay Halder, too, did not look plum. His wastefulness was evident for everyone to see. Was this the move that cost India a ticket to the knockouts?
3. India’s long ball tactic didn’t work against a burly Bahrain side
In the first half, India’s only hope up top was the spot-jumping ability of Sunil Chhetri, who did the best he could from the long deliveries of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. The #11 tried to play on Ashique Kuruniyan on a number of occasions, but it just wasn’t to be. India’s long balls, started mostly by goalkeeper Gurpreet, did not work against the burly Bahrain side.
After the arrival of Jeje Lalpekhlua, India, time and again, were able to control these long balls, but illegally on all occasions except one. Chhetri and Jeje tried to thread some moves, but it just wasn’t to be, given Al Hayam and Al Shamsan’s brave pairing at the heart of Bahrain’s defence. It really is beyond anyone’s wits what India’s Plan B was, throughout the tournament.
2. Pronay Halder shines with the armband
The ATK man was one of India’s best players on the pitch
Captain for the game, Halder played as if his life depended on it. The ATK midfielder was one of the best Indian players on the pitch, arguably better than even Chhetri. Only Jhingan looked to have overshadowed him. Halder moved with purpose, blocked with grit, passed with precision and matched the powerful Bahrain side step-for-step.
This will be a long flight back for the midfielder, who was one of the most developed players during the tournament. Halder courted responsibility and contributed to both defence and attack. He stopped at least four shots on target, proving his extreme mettle as a defensive midfielder. His giving away of a penalty at the end takes nothing away from him, as that could happen to any player. Who would he get better with – Thapa or Borges?
1. Did India really deserve to win against Bahrain?
They started on the back foot, with the West Asian nation controlling the bulk of the possession. No real attacks, not one in the entire 90 minutes and a completely despondent second half, tells you that this Indian side were completely outplayed by a Bahrain team that was reeling at the bottom of the table, but had an immovable will to win.
India did not deserve to win. Period. They did not do enough to earn their ticket to the knockout rounds and Bahrain certainly did. The opposition leapfrogged India and Constantine’s boys did not really impress in their most important game in more than eight years. The team may have entertained a lot of fans across the continent in their three games, but they just didn’t make enough chances or enough of their chances.