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AFC Asian Cup 2019: Five issues India need to address against Bahrain

Written by: Ajay A K

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The Blue Tigers are in a must-win situation to secure qualification to the knockout rounds of the tournament. 

India head into the final group game against Bahrain with a chance to finish in any of the four spots. The Blue Tigers started the AFC Asian Cup in style beating Thailand 1-4, but were quickly brought down to earth by the United Arab Emirates, losing 2-0 in a tightly-contested affair.

With qualification to the knockout stages hanging in the balance, India will need to address the deficiencies that cropped up during their first two matches, so as to come away with all three points from the last round of group games.

Here are the five main issues the Indian team needs to address before the upcoming clash:

5. Communication in defence

Against the UAE, the usually reliable Indian defence was broken and lack of communication was seen, especially during the first goal. Anas Edathodika and Pritam Kotal looked very shaky at the back and it was surprising to see the generally solid Indian backline give away chances due to their lack of focus.

The Indian back four needs to buck up and improve their communication, so as to not let Bahrain through. 100% concentration is required, especially if India are aiming for a victory.

4. Bahrain’s threat from set-pieces

It is no surprise that India are vulnerable when it comes to set-pieces. Thailand threatened them on multiple occasions with set-pieces and also scored the equalizer via a free-kick. Even the United Arab Emirates had a golden chance, when a mix-up between Kotal and Edathodika presented a crucial opportunity to The Whites, which they failed to convert. Bahrain are a team that focuses heavily on set-pieces.

The Reds' only goal in the tournament against hosts UAE, came through a set-piece. They will be looking to exploit the Blue Tigers’ weaknesses from dead-ball situations. India will need to come up with effective strategies and marking to prevent their opposition from exploiting this outlet.

3. Effective finishing

Despite only getting one point from two matches, Bahrain’s defence has been efficient. The West Asian side’s backline has allowed very few chances in the opening two rounds. In the first match especially, their solidity at the back frustrated the UAE for large periods, before a lucky break gave them the opportunity to equalize from the spot.  

In the second game, Thailand had just two shots on target, but unfortunately for the Reds, the War Elephants converted one such opportunity. India will need to pounce at every small chance they get. If the Blue Tigers waste opportunities like they did against the hosts, they might have to board an early flight home.


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2. India need to start Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sunil Chhetri upfront

One common characteristic in India’s first two games was that the Blue Tigers played second fiddle to the opposition in terms of ball possession. Once again, Bahrain will most likely see more off the ball and in such situations, India need a striker who can hold the ball up and can work in tandem with Sunil Chhetri.

Jeje Lalpekhlua fits the bill perfectly. The Mizo Sniper, despite not being in his best form this season, seems to always put in good performances in the Blue Tigers’ colours. His hold-up play would help Chhetri to don the role of the playmaker. He can also be the ideal target man for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s long and accurate punts.

1. Lack of a midfield general

The game against the UAE brought out a lot of ghosts in the Indian closet, especially the lack of a sustainable midfield. Pronay Halder looked clueless, as the opposition midfielders had a field day in terms of controlling the game and dictating play.

Against Bahrain, India need a midfield kingpin who can control the pace and tempo of the match and thereby, bring about organisation in the middle of the park. Rowlin Borges excels in such a role and his presence will be a vital addition to the Blue Tigers’ starting lineup. His imposing figure could also allow Chhetri to focus more on initiating attacks.

Published: Sun Jan 13, 2019 04:28 PM IST

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