The Indian skipper could not leave his mark on the hosts on Thursday night.
India once again failed to break the shackles and could only muster a 1-1 draw against Afghanistan in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying clash. It was Zelfagar Nazary’s first half strike which caught the Indian defence napping and handed the hosts a lead going into half-time.
The Blue Tigers reciprocated with intent and came back into the game with more attacking impetus. Igor Stimac’s men created chances, however, the Indian forwards failed to convert them into goals. Later, a corner from Brandon Fernandes found substitute Seimilen Doungel in the box and the FC Goa duo combined to restore parity in injury-time.
Following the draw, the Blue Tigers find themselves in a spot of bother, sitting fourth in their group with only three points from four games.
Here are the talking points from the match:
5. Are Indian wingers too one-dimensional for their liking?
Wing-play has been one of India’s important weapons in recent times. Players like Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh possess immense pace and can take on multiple defenders on their day. However, the Afghans simply did not allow the wingers to play their natural game. When India went ahead in attack, it was always their midfielders who progressed the ball forward, as the supply to the wings was cut off.
The hosts always doubled up whenever the ball was received in wide areas and did not allow the Indian wingers to create any chances for Sunil Chhetri upfront. In the second half, things transformed, as the Blue Tigers started putting more pressure, but their one-dimensional gameplay did not help matters.
4. Was starting Mandar Rao Desai a gamble by Igor Stimac?
Despite all the possession India enjoyed, it was the Afghans who created more chances, got into dangerous positions and eventually had the lead going into half-time. Their main source of attack was from the right flank, as they kept pushing Mandar back and the FC Goa man struggled to clear his lines at times, conceding cheap set-pieces and piling up the pressure on the Indian defence.
Although, India managed to deal with the threat from most of these set-pieces, a late run from the right flank and a low pass across the box led to the goal scored by Nazary. It is still early days for Mandar as a left-back in national colours and Anoush Dastgir’s men capitalized on this chink in India’s armour.
3. Did Anoush Dastgir’s tactical flexibility allow Afghanistan to have an upper hand?
Dastgir is only 29-years-old and is inexperienced in comparison to Igor Stimac. However, on Thursday night, the Afghan got the better of his Croatian counterpart in the tactical plays. Afghanistan pressed high in the first half and forced India to make mistakes, from which they profited on the counter-attack.
The Lions of Khorasan were tireless in their approach in the first half, as they hounded the Blue Tigers in the wide areas and eventually earned a goal. However, in the second half, Dastgir adapted to a more defensive formation, as the Afghans looked to shut shop having taken the lead. Their plan was almost successful until Seminlen Doungel restored parity for India.
2. Did Afghanistan’s overly-conservative approach come back to haunt them in the end?
Anoush Dastgir’s men picked up the goal late in the first half and changed to a more defensive approach in the second. The players sat back even more and allowed India to have more possession, which also piled up the pressure on the Afghans. This eventually broke their resistance, as Seiminlen Doungel scored the equalizer from Brandon Fernandes’ corner late on.
Every time the hosts marauded forward, they created chances terrorizing the shaky Indian defence. One of the shots even struck the post and some forced Gurpreet Singh Sandhu into saves. They looked dangerous while attacking, but their approach of shutting shop with a slender lead paved their downfall.
1. Was Sunil Chhetri too isolated upfront for most of the match?
Sunil Chhetri is India’s talisman and the 35-year-old has bailed out the Blue Tigers time and again with his goals. However, Chhetri has struggled to find the back of the net off late. Apart from a strike against Chennaiyin FC, he has not looked convincing in front of goal in recent times. The Indian forward was once again isolated upfront against Afghanistan and dropped deep into midfield to get on the ball. This meant the Blue Tigers hardly had anyone in the opposition’s final third.
Later, Stimac did bring in forwards like Manvir Singh, Farukh Choudhary and even Seminlen Doungel to add more dynamism in attack, but until then Chhetri was very ineffective, as he was left with too much to do on his own.