India vs Nepal Friendly: Positives And Negatives

Wednesday, 7 June 2017|Behind The Dugout by SM

A potentially tricky tie against neighbours Nepal was sidestepped by the Indian football team in the heat of the Mumbai summer at the Mumbai Football Arena with the famed yellow brigade backing the Men in Blue home. Sandesh Jhingan opened the scoring with a brilliant left-footed volley which went in via the crossbar, and the second was a lovely move rounded off by a side-foot finish by Jeje Lalpekhlua into the bottom corner. 

However, it wasn’t all easy for the Indian team, Nepal were tough to break down in the first half and the Blue Tigers were generally poor in the final third. However, Biraj Maharjan’s red card opened the game up for the Tigers and gave them some much-needed confidence going into the Asian qualifier against the Kyrgyz Republic.


#1 The telecast of the game on Star Sports

Indian football has forever been the naughty younger brother of Cricket in India. The I-League, which is still the official League in India has just over 75% of its matches telecasted on television, and so goes the case for Indian club teams participating in Asian completion (even AFC Champions League games involving Indian teams somehow don’t make it into the listings).

That Star has agreed to telecast all Indian football games, and while that might have much more of an ulterior motive, especially with the Indian Super League being one of their money makers it is hard not to be happy. For the casual football fan in India, it provides a chance to follow the game. 

It might not be a giant leap, but it definitely a step in the right direction. 

#2 The settled back four 

The back four of Narayan Das, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal undoubtedly is the best in India on paper. Apart from Narayan Das, who has had a stop-start season with East Bengal, the defenders are bang in form. Add to that their ability and experience and we have the perfect recipe for success. 

However, what is really interesting is the variation and flexibility in the back four, Pritam Kotal is a very solid right-back equally good defensively and going forward and can come up with that occasionally pile driver from the edge of the box. Sandesh is a very good defender, good with the ball at his feet and pops up with the occasional goal (like he did).  Anas is the no-nonsense defender that every team needs. Narayan too, like his counterpart on the other wing, is good at going forward and has a mean cross in him. 

India, if they need to climb higher in the FIFA rankings will face a lot of different type of oppositions, and their versatility will be key if the Blue Tigers are to succeed. 

#3 The performance of Eugeneson Lyngdoh

Even the most ardent of Eugeneson Lyngdoh fan will agree that the midfielder has had an underwhelming season to his personal high standards. He has probably had to play in a very unfamiliar Number 10 position for his club this season and has often been a bystander as the game passed him by. 

On Tuesday, he was asked to come out for an injured Rowllin Borges and boy did he put up a performance. Before the former Shillong Lajong man took the field, India had less possession than Nepal and were struggling to create chances. His first touch was a lovely dinked ball for Jeje to run on to, and that set up the tone for the evening. 

He was brilliant, moving from box to box with aplomb and in some occasions covering for an underwhelming Mohammed Rafique. His highlight of the game was a volleyed cross-field ball into the feet of Bikash Jairu to start a counter-attack. 

If India are to get 3 points in the qualifier against the Kyrgyz Republic, they would need their midfield maestro at his imperious best, and the signs are just about right. 



#1 The 4-4-2 formation and the style of play

There is a reason why only a few teams in world football play the 4-4-2 formation with two out and out strikers and two wingers. It leaves the midfield often outnumbered and allows the opposition to attack the back four when they bypass the two holding. 

On Tuesday, exactly that happened, Jeje and Robin Singh, two out and out strikers started for India and the midfield two was outnumbered by their Nepalese counterparts to the extent that a team ranked 69 places below them in the FIFA rankings had more possession of the ball. 

The defenders had to constantly hit the ball long, as the midfield 3 of Nepal marked out the midfield two of India and India lost possession quite often. Until the red card for Biraj Maharjan, India struggled in midfield and were crowded out once too often. 

The Blue Tigers might have got away with it given it was only Nepal, but will that be the case against a stronger opposition? A question Stephen Constantine would perhaps like to avoid.

#2 Robin Singh

After the game on Tuesday, Constantine explained the press Robin Singh’s substitution after the first half, “It's not a reflection whether he played good or bad. He was always one of them who was going to come out”. 

The East Bengal striker struggled throughout the game with his positional and hold up play. India could hardly keep the ball in the final third, and when they did, the former Bengaluru FC player often played a poor pass. He even missed the wonderful opportunity on his head around the 23rd minute when Jackichand cross fortuitously fell for him. 

That brings the question, are India a better team with or without the striker? 

With Robin substituted for the second half, the rate of long balls forward was reduced to at least half of what it was in the first half. Robin hardly comes short for the ball to be played at his feet and therefore the midfielders and defenders are obligated to hit the ball long. 

The left-footed centre forward has exactly 4 goals in his international career, the same number of goals centre-back Sandesh has in his 15-game Indian career. 

With Sunil Chhetri and CK Vineeth coming back, the number 9 should be worried.