AFC Asian Cup 2019: Talking points as listless India bow out to Bahrain

Football January 15, 2019
Sunil Chhetri and India fought hard but it did not work out for them.Image: AFC Media

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AFC Asian Cup 2019: Talking points as listless India bow out to Bahrain

A 90th-minute penalty winner from Jamal Rashid sunk India as Bahrain beat them by 1-0 to end a memorable AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign. Meanwhile, the draw between UAE and Thailand meant that Sunil Chhetri’s side had no chance of qualification, despite that memorable 4-1 win against Thailand.

Bahrain was dominant throughout the course of the game and after sustained pressure in the latter stages of the second half, they finally broke the deadlock to end their campaign on a high. As far as India was concerned, their plan to absorb pressure and progress to the knockouts certainly didn’t bear fruit.

On that note, without further ado, let’s take a look at the major talking points from the game:

The Indian team was drab and uninspiring in attack. Image: AFC Media
                                         The Indian team was drab and uninspiring in attack. Image: AFC Media

1. India’s flat 4-4-2 system sucked out their creativity 

As seen in the Asian Cup thus far, Stephen Constantine fielded a very flat 4-4-2, with Pronay Halder set to captain the side. The back four was unchanged, while the two central midfielders operated just in front of the heart of the defense. Halicharan Narzary and Udanta Singh, who occupied the flanks, stood on the same lines as the midfielders, conducting more defensive duties that offensive.

Well, the two forwards were as isolated at times as anyone else. All in all, it was a defensive approach that meant to rely on long balls and diagonals. Once again, Gurpreet was seen smashing the 70-yard passes to Sunil Chhetri and Udanta across the pitch, much to the frustration of the Indian fans.  

The Reds threatened early on and an injury to Anas Edathodika worsened matters as a sense of confusion was infused, but soon, India settled into the game. Ultimately, there was nothing to separate between the sides heading into the break. Post the break, however, Bahrain laid an unrelenting siege on the Indian goal. Jhinghan and Gurpreet’s heroics and poor play in the final third prevented them from taking the lead, but a stoppage time foul in the penalty box by captain Pronay Haldar undid it all. India’s strategy of letting the opponent control the tempo of the game came to haunt them in the worst manner possible.

The Indian fans were immense. Image: AFC Media
                                                          The Indian fans were immense. Image: AFC Media

2. Gurpreet and Jhinghan gave it their all

Bahrain created chance after chance after chance and after constant resilience from their opponents, a penalty was what it took to ensure a third place. They came at the Indians time and time again, but finally, Miroslav Soukup’s side knocked the stuffing out of the opposition.

We could fill pages full of reports underlining the number of chances that fell to Bahrain, and it still would not be enough. Gurpreet produced some jaw-dropping saves, right from the outset. Sandesh Jhingan’s interceptions and challenges proved why he’s the rock of this Indian defense.

Bahrain had an indirect free-kick from five yards, they hit the post, they tested Gurpreet thrice in a minute and what not!

However, a last-ditch tackle from Pronay Halder brought Alshamsan down, giving the referee with no chance but to point to the spot. There was nothing Gurpreet could do to save that though, and on the balance of the game, Bahrain thoroughly deserved their win.

Stephen Constantine has resigned as manager of the Indian Football Team. Image: AFC Media
                    Stephen Constantine has resigned as manager of the Indian Football Team. Image: AFC Media

3. Where does Indian Football go from here?

Against Thailand, Sunil Chhetri and co. turned the game on its head to score three second-half goals and register an unlikely victory. While they frittered away their opportunities against the hosts of the Asian Cup, in this fixture, it almost looked Constantine’s troops went into a football match without seeking a victory.

More so in the second half, there was hardly an instance when they mustered a handful of passes. India bluntly failed to get out of their lines and transition from defense to midfield. Every time they won the ball, the second pass never came. By then, it was Bahrain recycling the ball and knocking at the Indian defense.

Yes, the team has shown the determination that knows no bounds and limits. Yes, they have portrayed appetite to succeed, but here, it was all about sticking to the basics and playing simple football. Constantine’s ultra-defensive techniques that resulted in absolutely no blue shirt even in the middle thirds suffocated the defense, asking too much out of them. Despite the abysmal loss, one can take hope from the character shown by the lads. With Constantine announcing his intention to quit his role as a manager of the Indian National Football Team, it will be interesting to see who comes in and how does he take the team forward from here.

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