The Blue Tigers finished in third place at the tournament.
The Indian national team played a competitive game under their newly -appointed head coach Igor Stimac for the first time, as they participated in the King’s Cup hosted by Thailand. The Blue Tigers started against the 82nd ranked Curacao and played the third-place fixture against the hosts, losing the first encounter and winning one. Stimac handed out debuts to every new player except goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh and still looks far from his first-choice starting XI.
But, the team does look close to a distinct gameplay. The clearances from Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu can be expected to be in play only in pressure situations and a lot of passes will form the core of the style. Indian fans still need to give the new coach time to implement his ideas from on the paper to on the pitch.
Watch: Igor Stimac praised the performance of the Indian players at the King’s Cup
Time that he really doesn’t have. India will host the Intercontinental Cup next, with Syria, Tajikistan and North Korea travelling to the South Asian country to participate in the invitational competition. Another training camp might help Stimac get closer to his players, but he really needs to gauge his team in testing conditions, in practice games against strong opposition. That will be a crucial challenge. Let’s now move on to the analysis.
Adil Khan proved why he was so desperately pushed by a lot of people to be selected by Stephen Constantine and did a lot of good work in his only outing against Thailand. Coupled with stand-in captain Jhingan, Khan cleared a lot of balls, made a lot of good, forward passes and also assisted for Anirudh Thapa’s goal with a sweet ball in the six-yard area.
Watch: Stimac thinks World Cup Qualifiers are the only thing that matters for the Blue Tigers right now
Sahal Abdul Samad, one of the most talked about youngsters in the last six months or so, also got his India jersey in the first game against Curacao and proved why he has been hyped. The touch is there for everyone to see and so is the footballing sensibility. Physicality and a little more maturity would mould the Kerala Blasters midfielder into a hot property.
If this is the blueprint of India’s defence going forward, Rahul Bheke and Jhingan will have to work on their communication a lot. Bheke, effectively, is patterned in a mould where he leaves a lot of space behind whenever the team has possession, something integral to attacking full-backs. Jhingan isn’t the fastest, and counter-attacks could become India’s undoing in key encounters like the World Cup Qualifiers, something that is being keenly waited for.
Sunil Chhetri, who operated as a proper #9 in the first game against Curacao, looked a little out of place, probably due to the defensive abilities of Cuco Martina. Chhetri has a mean header, but may be outmuscled by stronger and taller defenders, who play in better leagues around the world. Precisely there, Balwant Singh or Manvir Singh come in. Balwant, at ATK, has operated in the #11 role and that looks to have weakened his edge. Manvir, on the other hand, was usually on the Goa bench, with Ferran Corominas firing on all cylinders week in, week out.
Stimac is probably waiting for Jeje Lalpekhlua to return from injury and it would be interesting to see how he operates and implements his attacking ideas after the “Mizo Sniper” comes back to the fold.
Coming back, India’s possession numbers are a massive plus for a side that was regularly booed by its own fans for losing the ball too often and playing a style a football that involved hitting it long, hoping a player would do something. India held more ball than Thailand in the second game and Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Raynier Fernandes, both debutants in this tournament, held the midfield together and moved the ball positively ahead.
Another debutant, Brandon Fernandes, would probably be a little disappointed. Played in a deep playmaking role where he had to defend a lot, Fernandes looked a little out of place whenever Curacao attacked. On the ball, though, he was India’s best bet to move the it forward, finding several teammates in the box and at forward positions regularly. The FC Goa creator gave glimpses of how handful he could be if he is allowed to operate in the #10 role.
There are a lot of positives from the tournament if you’re an optimist and a lot of negatives if you’re on the other side of the pool. However, there’s one thing for certain, the new side needs time. It believes in youth and every player who performs in training will be given a run. Exciting days ahead. Indian fans, brace for them.