There was a lovely crowd assembled to watch Manipur host the Indian National Team for the first time ever (Igor Stimac disagrees). The Khuman Lampak Stadium was filled out and they were equally entertained. The full-time score read only 1-0 but everyone agrees that the scoreline should have read at least 3-0. There were a few dodgy calls against the hosts but we move.
India next faces Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday. So let’s take a look at the talking points ahead of the fixture.
How good are Kyrgyzstan?
Kyrgyzstan is 94th in the FIFA Rankings. Their last recognized international game before the tournament was at home against Russia where they lost 2-1 due to a late goal by Daniil Utkin. Last year, they faced Myanmar in June and had a 2-0 victory. But in the June before that, they threw them out of the window for an 8-1 victory. Mirlan Murzaev (you must have heard of his name) scored a hat trick in that game.
On the ball, Kyrgyzstan had three players against Myanmar’s front two – giving them the advantage in their defensive third. The penetration was mostly from the wings. Although there were way too many wayward passes around the final third. The defense conceded a penalty but Kyaw Min Oo couldn’t score. Their defense shut down in the 82nd minute as they conceded a goal to a quick freekick. Kyrgyzstan crawled back to score a last kick-equalizer to deny Myanmar their only second win in their last 21 games!
Kyrgyzstan’s head coach Aleksandr Krestinin is a significant figure in the country’s football. The Russian has been coaching the national team since 2014. He also held a parallel job as FC Dordoi Bishkek‘s head coach from 2017 to 2021 – with a winning record of 64%.
Could there be changes in the midfield?
Anirudh Thapa has been rightfully adjudged the man of the match for his performance against Myanmar. He could have gotten a well-earned assist but the linesman wrongfully flagged Chhetri offside in the 74th minute. He looks nailed on for the next midfield combination. But what about the other two who started alongside him?
Jeakson should retain his place. Yasir could be dropped for, maybe, Brandon Fernandes? Maybe Suresh Wangjam and Rohit Kumar get more minutes. Sahal Abdul Samad has also been called up ahead of the game.
How many minutes will Naorem Mahesh Singh get?
Coming on as a substitute, East Bengal’s Naorem Mahesh Singh changed the dynamics of the game. The debutant’s first contribution to the game was to skip past three players and move the ball forward. His simplistic approach to the game opened up the Myanmar defense in a few instances. Just like he did in ISL this season.
“Naorem was a big surprise because I could see what he is capable of during the ISL but when players come from ISL to the national team it is a different kind of pressure. He was brilliant and everything he did tonight was good,” said Stimac.
However, a small question remains. Will he get his first international start against Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday? Looks likely, but it depends on whether Stimac wants Bipin to start again and Mahesh to make an impact off the bench. He also has Ritwik Das as an option.
Which center-back duo will be picked?
Indian Center-Backs had a good ISL and hence, it will be fair to give all of them a chance in this camp. Mehtab Singh made his India debut after a convincing campaign with Mumbai City FC. Although he appeared a bit nervous. Chinglensana Singh started alongside him.
It shall be seen whether Sandesh Jhinghan, who had a solid comeback season with Bengaluru FC, will start the game or not. National team faithful Anwar Ali always makes a case.
Who will be in the goal for India?
True to his approach, Stimac called up Phurba Lachenpa, a young goalkeeper, alongside Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh. Gurpreet was rested so Lachenpa was touted as the favourite to start. However, Amrinder started. It was a great clean sheet-earning performance from him but with Gurpreet back, it will be worth watching out whether Amrinder gets to start against Kyrgyzstan or not. Or maybe, Phurba gets the nod, or Gurpreet slots right back at his place.
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