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India U-23s play like Italy of 1994, sadly they miss Roberto Baggio and Daniele Massaro!

Written by: Punit Tripathi


The Blue Colts do not have the ammunition to execute the approach the Azzurri of old made famous...

I grew up on football with my father telling me stories about how Brazil played flair football, how the English teams were always overhyped and had no real success except one here and there and how great Italian teams played ‘hit-and-run’, with defenders hitting the ball high up the pitch, relying on the strikers to reach to it before opposition defenders and put it at the back of the net.

India, in today’s context, is similar to that Italian team, barring the presence of the Baggios and the Massaros. Roberto Baggio was an old fashioned striker, very comfortable with aerial balls and providing the team goals at every instance of need, except one. (The 1994 World Cup final penalty shootout) Sadly, the Robin Singhs, the Jeje Lalpekhluas and the Manvir Singhs aren’t the prototypical Baggio of modern Indian football.

Watch: Toothless India U-23 come unstuck against resilient Syria

Watching India U-23 play Syria on Wednesday was a similar feeling. Lalruatthara was probably playing a Pepe-esque role on the pitch, lunging into one tackle after another with disdain and almost with ignorance. He looked like he had forgotten that cards are awarded in football, and two of them meant the captain sits out the next game. Having a hard line of defence is okay and understandable, but getting that last line to tackle at the drop of the hat and commit fouls in numbers doesn’t make sense, does it? It's SUICIDAL.

If you’ve ever played competitive football, at any level, you’d know as a player that the most comfortable thing on the pitch is to have the ball at your feet or at your teammate’s feet. Anyone who questions this point can please comment or write to me at Looking at the mentioned pretext, our National team manager seems to be feeding the national team Colts with other messages.

The ball is not asked to be carried out of the defence, EVER. It is always asked to be comfortably kicked into the stratosphere, from which, more often than not, the opposition is sure to regain possession. Manvir Singh and Daniel Lahlimpuia are expected to be the Roberto Baggio and Daniele Massaro, which is too hard a thing for these youngsters with just over 50 senior level games under their belts. Why do players in the national team always look hurried? Why are they not comfortable keeping the ball? It is either the capability, which isn’t the case because these players have showcased enough maturity on the ball at the club level.

So now, it’s either the manager’s tendency to play the long ball, or it is his inability to find the right players in the country. If it’s the second one, what is India’s best young deep-lying playmaker Isaac Vanlalsawma doing sitting back home? So, looking at how we play with the senior team, we come to a safe conclusion that it’s the manager’s way of playing, just like Mourinho plays a defensive formation, Guardiola has a tiki-taka and Ancelotti a dynamic possession-based system.

Also Read: India U-23 see off Singapore U-23 in tight encounter

With the ‘hit-and-run’ policy, we wonder what Anirudh Thapa and Jerry Lalrinzuala are doing in the team. Ball players, composed on it and concentrated without it, shouldn’t be a part of it. Are they saving graces in a denounced system of hypocrisy? Are we actually moving in the right direction in terms of a footballing nation? Is he actually building a team for the future, like he says? I understand that it’s been very short that the team has practised together, but here, I’m not questioning the collaborative ability or the cohesion, but the intent to play a system and the system itself.

There’s no midfield for transition, for carrying the ball, for creating opportunities. It’s a more extended form of defensive shield. Throughout the game against Syria, except once or twice, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh were chasing shadows and were defending in their own half. When they won the ball and passed it back due to high pressure, it was hit back into the rotational horizon, expected to be controlled with finesse and put into the back of the net by our own Mario Balotelli. Sadly, none exist. 


Published: Thu Jul 20, 2017 01:14 PM IST


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