The Indian manager Stephen Constantine’s decisions to bring Rowllin Borges into the starting XI backfired as the tenacious midfielder had a particularly poor game.

Don’t let the scoreline fool you. India might have sunk 0-2 on the night, but on any other night where the Blue Tigers would’ve had luck by their side, India could’ve easily ended 6-2 winners at the end of the night and through to the knockout rounds. However, by the end of the night, the score-line at the Zayed Sports City Stadium still read in favor to hosts, United Arab Emirates.

Watch: India 0-2 UAE, Goals and Highlights

India started off on the front foot and in the first half played some of the most exciting football all of us have seen in the Indian national team in a long time. Chhetri and company created four clear cut chances in the first half but were really unfortunate to concede from the only meaningful chance that UAE carved out in the first half. India resumed business at top gear at the start of the second half and looked close on getting equaliser- Udanta struck the post but after 65 minutes of breath-neck football, the Indian side blew off steam and lost control of the game. UAE got another one in the dying minutes and put the Blue Tigers out of their misery.

However, with that being said there are many positives to talk about and discuss and the men in blue can hold their heads high and take on Bahrain with optimism and confidence of making it to the next round.

Lineups and formation

Stephen Constantine started with an unchanged lineup from the Thailand game and with a flat 4-4-2 formation. This time however, Sunil Chhetri led the side with the captain’s armband instead of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from last night and Ashique Kuruniyan started on the right wing instead of the left wing as in the previous game. In the second half however, Constantine shifted him to the left where his game significantly dropped.

UAE manager Zaccheroni started with a 4-3-3 which took the shape of a 4-3-2-1 for much of the match. Bandar Al Ahbabi who plays as a winger for his club side started as a right back and was partnered by Khalifa Mubarak and Ismail Ahmed in central defence and Alhussein Saleh on the other flank. Ahead of them were Amer Abdulrahman, Ali Salmeen and Khamis Esmail. Ismail Al Hamadi and Khalfan Mubarak played just behind the main striker Ali Makhbout.

First-half positives: Masterclass in pressing and maintaining defensive shape

India’s pressing game was very visible and noticeable on the night. They played fearlessly and pressed their opponents relentlessly since the very start of the game. UAE started on the stronger foot but India soon caught up. Whenever a UAE player was on the ball, Indian players would converge on him quickly and either retrieve possession or force the player on the ball to make a mistake. This allowed the Blue Tigers plenty of possession in meaningful and dangerous areas on the pitch. Whenever an Indian player would lose the ball, players would converge in 2s and 3s on the UAE man with the ball and try to force him to make an unforced error or sweep the ball form off his feet for the 5 seconds. Beyond 5-7 seconds, if UAE still retained possession, players would drop back and maintain the defensive shape by falling into line of four. Classic textbook pressing utilised by Constantine and his men.

Despite having the majority of possession in the first half, UAE could not make much use of it and were reduced to shooting from distance. This is an ode to the fact that India maintained a solid defensive shape and Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan positioned themselves well and anticipated moves adeptly. Pritam Kotal had a great defensive display aside from contributing offensively and Bose held his ground.

India looked dangerous on the counter- Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s first time long kicks often released Udanta on the wing who burnt pace to force his way and cause threats to the UAE backline that looked nervy for much of the first half. Sunil Chhetri would find the pacey Ashique Kuruniyan with delightful through ball but his powerful shot was saved by the keeper. Sunil himself managed to test the goalkeeper from a free header after Anirudh lobbed a delightful ball to him.

India were also excellent at utilising dead ball situations and Sandesh Jhingan had a free header in the box that should have tested the goalkeeper at the very least.

Momentary lapse of concentration and UAE take advantage

After putting up a virtuoso display for 35 minutes, it seemed that the Indian backline lost focus for a minute and it was at this point that UAE’s clinical nature hurt the team. Makhbout beat Anas Edathodika in a race that the Indian defender should’ve easily won. He then held on to the ball and released it to Khalfan Mubarak. In this case, Anas positioned himself wrongly and Jhingan and Bose were unable to take the ball off him and the Emirati forward beat Gurpreet from a tight angle- the goal came on the 41st minute after UAE had their first real chance on the 37th minute.


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Second-half changes

In the second half, Constantine took off Halicharan Narzary and brought on Jeje Lalpekhlua who scored a stunner against Thailand in order to pile on more attacking firepower. Jeje took Ashique’s place on the pitch as strike partner to Sunil and Ashique was moved to the left wing of the midfield. Ashique being left footed was unsuccessful in getting behind Bandar on many occasions and looked out of depth at crossing situations.

Constantine’s substitutions were also off the mark today. Borges disappointed after coming on for Anirudh and the youngster was one of the best players on the pitch for the Blue Tigers.

India started off strong in the second half with high octane attempts at getting that goal back. They would’ve been level on the score-line had Udanta’s shot been just a few inches lower and not hit the post. However, Constantine’s men couldn’t sustain the pressure and endless running for more than 65 minutes and lost their steam at that point- in stark contrast to the game against Thailand where India came alive in the second half.

Complete collapse of ideas after the 65th-minute

It goes without saying that a relentless pressing game and consistent defending coupled with a breaking on the counter with pace system extracts its toll on the players and that is what happened after the 65th-minute mark when Constantine’s men just dropped off and ran out of ideas. They fell into an ebb they could not recover from and stopped creating chances. The players’ shoulders had dropped and they resorted to keeping Thailand away from the goal as much as possible.

When the ball ended up in India’s possession, players would treat possession cheaply and lose the ball with and touches and-or mispasses. A clear sign that the team had run out of steam. The second half subs were unable to help the cause either and it ended up being a mismatch.

Takeaways

When I first started watching football, my father would often tell me that when a side is creating chances and is on top of the game, they should make sure they put it away else they are going to end up losing the game. And that idea was reinforced again after tonight’s match. This defeat hurts more because of the reason that we played so well but failed to secure the three points on the night.

However, the players hopefully realise that they did a commendable job against a side ranked 18 spots higher in the FIFA rankings and possesses players that started against Real Madrid in the Club World Cup just a few weeks ago.