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AFC Asian Cup

Talking Points: Has Stephen Constantine finally found the right team to implement his tactics?

Written by: Abhranil Roy

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The Blue Tigers scored four past the War Elephants in an emphatic win to open their AFC Asian Cup campaign in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

India thrashed Thailand 1-4 in a remarkable AFC Asian Cup game in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday evening. Led by their talisman Sunil Chhetri, who scored a brace, the Blue Tigers ran the War Elephants ragged, as Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpehklua were also on target.

It was a historic outing for Stephan Constantine and his boys, who have now registered India’s biggest victory at the continental competition, for the first time in 55 years. It also moved Chhetri to the second spot on the highest active international goalscorers’ list, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and two goals clear of Lionel Messi.

Watch: Thailand 1-4 India highlights

Here are the talking points from the game.

5. Did Thailand pay the price for underestimating India?

Thailand came into the match as clear favorites, but it seemed the tag had gotten to their heads. They conceded first and then equalized, after which they looked dominant throughout the first half. Yet, they lacked the intensity that was needed to finish the game off and they paid the price for it in the second.

The War Elephants could have gone for the jugular in the first 45 minutes itself, as they repeatedly found time and space in the Indian half but, they kept getting the final pass wrong. In the second, they failed to apply any sort of press on India, which the Blue Tigers exploited to the fullest extent. This chastening loss is partly down to the lackadaisical attitude that the Thais showed on the pitch and will further increase the pressure on manager Milovan Rajevac.

4. How can India improve on their set-piece defending?



Sandesh Jhinghan and Anas Edathodika made excellent cases for themselves, but one area they need to sort out is their set-piece defending. Throughout the first half, the Blue Tigers looked susceptible to conceding from a set-piece and that is what they eventually did in the 33rd minute, as a superbly floated ball into the box found Thai captain Teerasil Dangda in space and he calmly slotted past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Neither Bahrain nor the UAE will be as forgiving as Thailand were from their set-pieces. So that is an issue that Constantine will have to sort out as soon as possible.

3. Has Stephen Constantine finally found the right team to implement his tactics?

Ahead of the Asian Cup, Constantine drew a lot of flak for his team selection, but it seems like his squad plays to their strengths and his tactics very well. While this was just the first game and it is likely that his plans will have to be significantly modified against better opposition, the Englishman’s idea to sit back and soak up the pressure, hit the Thais on the counter using the pace of Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan and then let Chhetri finish the move, worked like a charm.

India’s ability to soak up incredible amounts of pressure will certainly help them as they take on Bahrain and the UAE in the next rounds. With the diminutive and deadly Chhetri leading the line, who now has 67 international goals to his name, the Blue Pilgrims can dare to dream.


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2. Can Thapa and Ashique be the next superstars of India?

Many fans and experts doubted if Kuruniyan could fit the Indian team setup well enough and the FC Pune City forward proved them all wrong against Thailand. He was instrumental in India repeatedly taking the game to the opponents and deserved a goal for the incredible amount of effort that he put in on the left wing.

Thapa, the Chennaiyin FC prodigy was another shining star in the team on Sunday night. He failed to make his mark offensively in the first half, but made sure that he put a shift in defensively. In the second 45, with the reins off him and with Pronay Halder acting as the defensive shield, he joined almost every Indian foray.

Te midfielder was rewarded with a goal for his efforts, with an outstanding chip over the Thai goalkeeper that made it 3-1 and spoke volumes about his skill and temperament. If nurtured well, these two could be the new superstars of the national team.

1. Should India start their next games with more intensity?

India let Thailand boss the first half and for some reason, they refused to seize the initiative despite Chhetri handing them the lead from the spot. While this may have been a conscious tactic on Constantine’s behalf to tire out the opposition, better teams will take their chances and finish off the game in the first half itself. As such, the tactician needs to adapt his gameplan and ensure that the momentum is not ceded easily in the subsequent games.

Published: Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:26 PM IST

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