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India’s Win Against Myanmar is Three Points, And That’s Just About It

Wednesday, 29 March 2017|Behind The Dugout by SM

When the net bulged as Sunil Chhetri scored his 53rd international goal in colours of India, the nation rejoiced, and around 70 yards away Stephen Constantine breathed a sigh of relief. Myanmar was India’s first hurdle ahead of qualification for AFC Asian Cup in 2019, and the Blues just somehow managed to clutch and claw their way to the finish line. 

This was India’s first win on Myanmar soil since the year 1953, and will probably propel India to its best FIFA Ranking for a period of 18 years. But as the country, and its small but fanatical crowd (which, mind you, loves the game) rejoices and celebrates, the reflection in the mirror will point at how ‘we’ got away with one on the way. 

India’s game plan in the first half of the game would have caused even the most casual of fans to raise an eyebrow. The Blue Tigers started with a 4-4-2, with Jeje Lalpekhlua and the in-form Robin Singh as the two center-forwards. The midfield four constituted of Sunil Chhetri on the left, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rowllin Borges in central midfield and Jackichand Singh on the right. 

As with traditional 4-4-2, each block had to play close to one another, and hence the defence of Narayan Das, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal played a very high line. As the game wore on, it was evident to how bad a decision it was to play in the formation. 

The Myanmar center-forwards, evidently more agile than the center-back duo of Sandesh and Anas kept getting behind the Indian defence, with their pace and mobility, compelling either Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to play the Manuel Neuer-esqu sweeper-keeper role or the duo to make last ditch challenges. 

The midfield didn’t help either, Eugene and Rowllin were often over-run, Myanmar playing around them at will. When they had the ball, the duo looked bereft of invention, and too often took the easy pass. The duo of Robin Singh and Jeje, though fashioning chances, was mostly through knock-downs and direct balls. 

Jackichand Singh and Sunil Chhetri didn’t see enough of the ball, and hence the fullbacks couldn’t get up the field. Despite the chances they created (please don’t remind me about the miss from Jackichand Singh), the Indians evidently were playing much below their ability.

What was more worrying was the rigidity of the tactics. When it became obvious that things weren’t working, Constantine hardly made any tactical changes, and the substitutes (successful in the hindsight) were like for like changes. 

The most worrying thing, however, is with the last minute win, the jubilation and the fanfare that comes along with it, the questions are likely to be swept under the rug. 

Stephen Constantine, went with a squad he would like to call tried and tested, but in reality, it is a squad knackered and underperforming in the top division of Indian football. Narayan Das, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh, and Jeje Lalpekhlua all have been underperforming massively for their respective clubs.

The effect of confidence and form cannot be understated in football, Jackichand’s miss from point blank range might be the subject of internet memes and mass ridicule, but in all honestly it is the by-product of having just played in four league games for East Bengal this season. Eugene's performance too, lacked invention and vigour, something which his game is based on, something he is completely ineffective without.

Sunil Chhetri, despite being the country’s highest goalscorer (equal with Wayne Rooney’s 53 international goals for England) and the second highest Indian goalscorer in the League this season was played wide left of a four-man midfield. CK Vineeth (the highest Indian goalscorer in the League) was left on the bench for the entire game despite Jeje’s lack of form. 

Not only that, the best performers in the League were ignored from the squad in itself. Ahead of the two international games, Constantine said, “I have experimented over the last two years and I don’t need to do that now. I have a group of players that I am comfortable with. So for somebody to come in, they need to be better than what I have”.

Two words immediately come to mind as an answer to those comments, ‘Jayesh Rane’. The Aizawl man has been leading the title assault for I-League leaders but was conveniently ignored for the squad. He is a player who could have offered Indian exactly what they were missing against Myanmar, quality on the final ball. Take a minute, and you can probably think of five more players who deserved to have a place in the squad. 

It is difficult to place the blame on the coach himself as this was the first time he met the squad since last September. India will likely to climb up the FIFA table, as they did last year, with the lovely planning AIFF seem to have done to beat the all so easily beaten FIFA Ranking system things look very happy and gay for the national team.

"But it’s important for the fans, players and most importantly the management to understand that the first win 64 years in Myanmar represents, at the moment, nothing more than just three points for India.

India might well be paying for the same mistakes they did on that ill-fated night in Kuala Lumpur on 15th August 1971 when they lost 9-1 to Myanmar, a result, whose tremors Indian football feels to this day. After all, India were runners-up at the Asian Cup just six years back (1964). Four decades and counting, and we might be counting for a decade more if we don’t heed the warning signs."

Because, foundations, my friend, aren’t made on sands.