India emerged as the champion of the inaugural four nation Hero Intercontinental Cup. They defeated Kenya by a margin of 2 goals to nil. It was a water shed moment for Indian Football as after a long time people thronged the ground to support Indian team albeit a heart full appeal from Captain which took micro blogging site Twitter by storm. Let’s have a look at the key takeaway’s for India.
Preparation For Asian Cup 2019 : With roughly eight months remaining to the continental show piece event it was a step in the right direction. More so as the domestic league season was over few months back and the new yet to start, it was perfect timing to gain some match practise.
Captain Fantastic : No words to describe the Captain. Sunil Chhetri again showed that why he is the torch bearer of Indian Football. Eight goals in the entire tournament shows that the man is in his prime form right now. With the final whistle of the game he touched none other than Lionel Messi in terms of goal scored as an active footballer. Who would have thought that a ball player from India will achieve such a feat. If he can carry this purple patch into January 2019 then surely we are going to see some fantastic goals from Captain Fantastic.
Anirudh Thapa : He has been a revelation in this tournament. He has grabbed the chance thrown at him with both hands and shown that given more game time he can become a great asset to the team. He is equally apt in both going forward and tracking back. A good performance in the Asian Cup can catapult his value in the market and he can try for a trial at any J-League or A-League clubs.
Defence : Another highlight of the tournament was the cohesion of the back four. The trio of Anas, Sandesh and Pritam are now seasoned professionals. But yet another revelation was Subhashish Bose. He is not afraid to go for the tackles, is strong in air and if required can bomb forward. Another long term assest to the team.
Now for some bitter takeaways.
Over dependence on Chhetri : India scored eleven goals in the tournament. Out of which eight were scored by Sunil Chhetri. India is overly reliant on Chhetri for goals. When the team is at its wits end including the coach it is always chhetri to the rescue act. This overdependence is going to hurt India. In the game against New Zealand so was the case. He was tightly marked. Jeje quickly has to fill the void. Otherwise without Chhetri its game over for India.
Fitness : We can excuse as this is the off season for the Indian players. But as evident from both the games against Kenya and New Zealand, fitness is still an area which has to be worked upon.
Lack of Midfield : This is not a new phenomena. Barring Lyndoh there is absolute dearth of quality midfielders in the Indian team. Anirudh Thapa has been a revelation but it will take some time for him to reach that level. In between there is huge void. As evident from the recent matches the favoured form of going forward is either thumping of long balls or occasionally through wings. There is absence of build up play. With some quality midfielders available for selection like Brandon Fernandes, Soosairaj it still is a mystery why Mohd Rafique is chosen every time. This mystery can be solved by only one and that is Stephen Constantine.
Quality of Opponents : Without taking away the credit from the Indian Team, the fact cannot be discounted that the other three teams only brought their second team or experimental team to the contest. Whereas India had the luxury of choosing a full strength squad. The group opponents of India in the Asian Cup are not only superior to India but they are also coming out after playing some of the continents best teams like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Uzbekistan etc. So it will be a different ball game all together.
Lack of Bench Strength : New Zealand showed the mirror to India. That match proved that India has no bench strength. India made seven changes to the starting line up and played most of the match defending. Even after restoring to almost full strength squad in the second half they ended up on the losing side. The players were just not yup to the mark. This is a concern area which needs to be addressed immediately.
Coach : I’m no fan of Stephen Constantine. He might have given forty odd individuals debut’s but still we lack bench strength. India had a great run under him. But if you look at the qualification campaign it was only Laos against whom we played comfortably. Against both Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic we had our backs to the walls for most of the time. It was a moment of magic from Chhetri that won the matches. And not because of any tactical change or inspired substitution by the coach. His assistant coach is Venkatesh, who was a good player. He picked him probably because he has played under him in his first stint. He should have picked an old hand who is familiar with the system and most of the players. His strategies are beyond comprehension. I strongly feel this was the right platform to give few of the Arrows(AIFF U-17 team which played the world cup) a chance.
India has played a combined forty one matches against Bahrain, UAE and Thailand and won only seven. So it will take more than just raw courage to show something worth while in Asian Cup 2019.