Poor Defending, Work in Progress: Why India Lost to Tajikistan in Intercontinental Cup Opener
Intercontinental Cup 2019: India lost 4-2 to Tajikistan in the tournament opener. Here are a few reasons behind India's huge loss.
India's defensive errors lost them the Intercontinental Cup opener vs Tajikistan. (Photo Credit: AIFF)
India opened their Intercontinental Cup defence with an embarrassing 4-2 loss to Tajikistan at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad on Sunday. Sunil Chhetri's brace in the first half was not enough as India conceded four goals in the second half to lose the match.
Komron Tursonov, Sheriddin Boboev, Muhammadjon Rahimov and Shahrom Samiev scored for Tajikistan all after 54 minutes of the match to condemn India to a huge loss.
India are placed at 101 in the FIFA rankings while Tajikistan are ranked 120th. However, on Sunday, India's ghastly errors were punished by a young Tajikistan side, leaving the hosts in a precarious situation.
With matches against DPR Korea and Syria next, India must win both the games to reach the final of the tournament.
It was all good till the half time as birthday boy Adil Khan put in a brilliant shift at the back while the Indian midfielders closed down spaces extremely well to deny Tajikistan any chance of threatening. However, the chips completely fell in the second half.
As the midfielders started losing concentration, it allowed Tajikistan to make more passes and get into spaces in the middle to create more and more chances. Tajikistan were also helped by the fact that the Indian defenders completely lacked communication.
The back four of Adil, Narender Gahlot, Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Dessai were playing together for the first time with coach Igor Stimac ringing in changes in abundance from the King's Cup line-up.
Right from the start, the lack of communication was an apparent hole in the Indian defence but it was covered up with the midfielders putting in a good defensive shift.
Later on, however, everything unraveled as Tajikistan overpowered the Indian line-up.
For the first Tajikistan goal, Narender completely missed the pass in the centre and it was easily picked by Tursonov who had made his run completely unmarked from between Narender and Mandar. His first shot was blocked by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu but he slotted it in with his second attempt.
Just three minutes later, India were guilty of being absolutely lazy at the back once again when Tursonov sent a ball from the right in the centre. Narender did not make an effort to slide in order to put the ball out and Boboev had made the run at Adil's back, whose sliding made no difference. Also Gurpreet has often shown his weakness with close shots and for the second goal, Boboev smartly nutmegged the India No.1 to score.
The third was once again down to the defenders not committing enough. Rahimov made an easy run from behind Adil, who did not challenge him enough to stop the goal.
The fourth was another horrible goal to concede as Panshanbe Ehsoni, with acres of space and no one closing him down, easily crossed the ball in the centre. Gurpreet, who was waiting for the ball to land in his hands, was taken aback when Samiev made an easy and unmarked run from between Adil and Jerry and shot the ball in.
India definitely missed the experience, presence and physicality of Sandesh Jhingan at the back. While Anas Edathodika might be out of the tournament, Jhingan is also apparently facing injury issues.
With both the experienced central defenders not a surity, the current back four will need immense help from the midfield to keep DPR Korea and Syria at bay.
POSSESSION-BASED STYLE OF PLAY STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Ahead of the tournament, coach Stimac made it clear that Indian fans might be in for some heartbreaks as he is still experimenting with the squad and this is only his second tournament at the helm.
Stimac wants the Indian players to get better at keeping the ball and show better control behind the second ball. He is also looking to get the Indian players to concentrate for longer periods and retrieve the lost ball faster.
In the first half of the match vs Tajikistan, that is exactly what the Indians showed. They tried to keep the ball as much as possible and were closing down spaces very well.
However, possession-based football is not something drilled in the players' heads and movements yet and that showed in the second half when they lost a bit of concentration and began losing the ball cheaply in panic.
India failed to put in a better shift in the later half of the match and that cost them. For India to play possession-based football, a lot more time is required.
Also, with Anirudh Thapa, Amarjit Kiyam and Sahal Abdul being the midfield against Tajikistan, Amarjit and Sahal needed to put in a better defensive shift for India to succeed and keep the ball up the pitch in the opposition half.
WHO APART FROM SUNIL CHHETRI?
For years, Sunil Chhetri has handled the burden of being the only one on top and the burden hasn't lessened for the 34-year-old forward till now. With 70 international goals, Chhetri has got his name in the record books but who apart from him will take the mantle of scoring the goals?
On Sunday, Chhetri scored twice - once from the penalty spot and another with a clinical finish. He missed a couple of chances too but he was always alone up top.
Udanta and Chhangte at the wing were trying to provide him with the balls but he needs more support for India to have better goalscoring prowess.
For now, the defenders can pretty much concentrate fully on Chhetri knowing he is the outlet. A support for him on the top may divide some attention for the opposition defenders enabling them both to score.
Jobby Justin, who is in the squad for the tournament, might be able to fill in that space.
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