India came out of their final AFC Asian Qualifier home match with a mixed performance against Myanmar with a 2-2 draw. Much of the Indian side have not played a competitive fixture for a while and the effects of it showed, going down by a goal as early as the first minute of the match and then having to endure a thoroughly frustrating first half against a dominant Burmese side. However in the second half, the Indian players slowly found their rhythm back and by the end of the match, they would have been disappointed to not have won all 3 points. Nevertheless, having already secured qualification India would be happy that they could preserve their unbeaten run to 13 matches now. Tactically though, India still have a lot of scope to improve.
Here is a tactical analysis of the game from an Indian perspective-
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been monumental in India’s fabulous unbeaten run and given the high standards he has built for himself it is fair to say that he did not have the best of days under the bar. The second goal India conceded was very evidently a goalkeeping error as he got his timing all wrong and dived over the ball. Even in the event of the first goal, Gurpreet seemed to have got caught up in two minds whether to go for catching the cross or to stay on his line. He made his move a bit late and it looked like had he stayed on the line, he had a better chance to save the ball.
Nevertheless, he did make couple of stunning saves in the later stages and showed why he is still India’s best No.1. His quick release and distribution is also worth a mention, as it did open up couple of goal scoring opportunities which the Indian attackers unfortunately could not take.
In the first half, India never looked like a side that had conceded only once in 4 qualifying matches. The solid centre-back pairing of Sandesh Jhingan & Anas Edathodika was tormented by the pace of the Myanmar forwards. Both of them, misplaced passes and lost possession in dangerous areas a few times and was lucky not to be punished by the opposition. Jhingan also had a hat-trick of chances to add to his goal scoring tally and should have scored. However while Anas did retrieve some of his reputation with a very crucial interception and couple of timely clearances, Jhingan got into his usual form with a couple of neat tackles towards the end of the match. Myanmar’s pressing in first half meant that India had to defend deep; however the confidence growth in the Indian lineup was evident from the highline they were playing towards the end of the match.
Both fullbacks were guilty in India’s first goal. Pritam Kotal charged forward to press as Myanmar initiated the attack but ended up missing both the ball and the player. He should have preferred to stay in line with his backline and not have let the quick Myanmar winger get behind him. Jerry Lalrinzuala was also guilty of not being strong and quick enough to react to the subsequent cross into the box. Had he attacked the ball instead of waiting for the ball like he did, surely the Burmese player would not have gotten to the ball ahead of him. Dealing with crosses has been an issue in Jerry’s game for a while and it would be one area he could focus on improving.
However, one area he stood miles ahead over regular starter Narayan Das was with his touch, especially in the second half. While Narayan usually heaves the ball long forward, Jerry showed the confidence to keep the ball on his feet and indulged in some nice linkup play down the left. His left-foot delivery from set-pieces can also be an asset to the side, with a neatly taken free kick unlucky not to find a header that had enough power in it. Kotal too had a moment of attacking move to be proud of- Sunil Chhetri somehow managed to put the ball wide from what was a delightful cross; while playing for Mohun Bagan and ATK, he has been a significant attacking outlet with his crosses into the box and should start producing the same more often for the national team too.
India’s weakest position currently looks to be midfield. Against Myanmar, the duo of Eugenseon and Germanpreet struggled to dictate the game. Even in our previous articles, we had mentioned that not pressing enough and not having enough dominance in midfield have been India’s major weaknesses, and that has not appeared to change. Eugene apart from an assist had pretty less to show, and he has been lacking the kind of influence that made him India’s best central midfielder. Germanpreet could not step into Rowlin’s shoes in his absence, as he struggled whenever the Burmese players pressed hard. Chhetri had to drop deeper several times to create moves and that is the evidence of the ineffectiveness of the midfield.
A way out for India out of this midfield conundrum would be to try out a 3 man midfield- Stephen Constantine could either keep the likes of Germanpreet or Anirudh Thapa alongside Rowlin and give Eugene a bit more creative freedom or bring in someone who could share creative duties alongside Eugene with Rowlin sitting much deeper.
India’s wingers were also disappointing on the night. While both Udanta Singh & Holicharan Narzary have the pace to punish opposition defences, it never was the case against Myanmar. Their crosses into the box were wayward on most occasions; Udanta’s shots and Narzary’s trickery failed miserably as well. While Holi could at least take credit for fulfilling his defensive duties, Udanta was guilty of not tracking back on several occasions as well. The Burmese side unhesitatingly took advantage of his defensive frailty as 75% of Myanmar attacks came from the flank that Udanta played in. He usually plays with more attacking freedom at Bengaluru FC but in the 4-4-2 system India played on the night, he will have to put in a defensive shift as well.
With the ISL and I-League seasons about to commence, it would be interesting to see if anyone could put in strong claims for India’s wide berths, with the likes of CK Vineeth, Jayesh Rane, Kean Lewis and Chesterpaul Lyngdoh all waiting for a chance.
Both Sunil & Jeje Lalpekhlua were on the scoresheet but it was Jeje who walked away with the Man of the match award and it was easy to see why. Very uncharacteristically of him, Sunil missed atleast 3 good chances he usually would have scored with his eyes closed. Jeje meanwhile took the role of a creator and couple of times paved the way for Sunil to go for goal. The goal he scored was also one of class as the timing of his run and the touch to control the cross were both perfect. Jeje’s holdup play is also worth mentioning as he managed to shield the ball and bring his teammates into the play in spite of his diminutive figure.
It would have been interesting to see Balwant Singh get a chance off the bench, as his physical presence and predator instincts in the box, could have offered India a different dimension to score and seal the match.
(Article written by Mishal, Football content Analyst @SportsKPI)
Photo Credit to AIFF Media