Team India’s second outing in the Hero Intercontinental Cup took place against 164th-placed Vanuatu in the Kalinga Stadium in Odisha. The Blue Tigers’ promising display against Mongolia placed the expectations of an exciting encounter against Vanuatu for which the hosts were the heavy favorites.
The match saw India’s coach Igor Stimac make 9 changes from the lineup that impressed but was unable to be clinical in front of the goal against Mongolia. Captain Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan were the only players from the previous match to hold their starting positions against Vanuatu as Stimac looked to be getting a feel of the entire squad ahead of the Asian Cup. The lineup was exciting as it presented the fans with a new look at the Blue Tigers, one they had not seen before but looked full of promise. It only remained to be seen how they clicked together in action.
The key takeaways from the match are as follows: –
1. India’s makeshift lineup
Igor Stimac was bold with his lineup for this match as he wanted to get a feel of the rest of the squad. The team on paper was full of promise and despite not being India’s first-choice XI, they remained heavy favorites to get the job done against the much weaker opposition. The makeshift reality of the lineup was evident from the very beginning as India often struggled to create chances through the middle and it often seemed that the players were not on the same wavelength when making runs or coming together for a team effort.
Team India’s lineup consisted of new faces and players who do not often get chances to make the first team for India and although provided with the opportunity to give Stimac something to think about when selecting the lineup, most of them failed to impress against a relatively weaker opposition. The newly returning Rowllin Borges could not offer the presence to fill the gap of Anirudh Thapa in midfield and Liston Colaco and Nandhakumar Sekar could not attack the wings with the surety and smoothness of Sahal Samad and Udanta Singh.
2. Firing blanks
A major point of concern regarding Team India after their matchup against Mongolia was their wastefulness in front of the goal. Today’s match served nothing different as India could not seem to find the target no matter what they tried in front of the goal. Debutant Nandhakumar Sekar had a host of chances that should have been capitalized on, the most glorious one coming from a through ball from Mahesh Singh that bisected the Vanuatu defense only to be dragged wide by Nandhakumar. India attempted a total of 23 shots and managed to keep just 2 of them on target, scoring 1 goal in the process. The flurry of chances squandered by the Indian frontline remains a grave concern as they often found themselves riddled with opportunities but could not capitalize on any of them.
3. Electrifying Mahesh
Mahesh Singh, deployed on the right wing by Stimac was particularly impressive, being central to most of the chances that the Blue Tigers created. Mahesh impressed with his fearless take-ons, driving at the opposition defense relentlessly, and the threaded passes that managed to split the Vanuatu defense multiple times. Mahesh deserved at least a couple of assists if not for the multiple squandered chances by the front line.
4. Defensive solidity
The defensive performance of India was commendable against Vanuatu. Although tasked with handling a relatively weaker attacking prowess in the Vanuatu attacking lineup, one must remember that the backline Stimac put out today does not have much experience playing with each other. Despite this, they managed to hold their shape pretty well leaving little room for any errors.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu commanded his box very well, coming out of his line to collect crosses when required, and had to make only 1 save in the entire game. This is the 4th clean sheet in a row for India as they allowed the opponents to attempt only 3 shots all game. A solid defense lays the foundation for every tremendous footballing achievement and India should be proud of their ability to hold their fortress down so successfully in the past few games.
5. Who else but Sunil Chettri?
India had a plethora of chances to take the lead but their wastefulness in front of the goal led to them being desperate for some inspiration. And up stepped the Blue Tigers captain, Sunil Chhetri once again to net his 86th international goal. A lofted ball from Subhashish found the Indian captain in the box in the 80th minute and was duly dispatched into the right-hand corner of the Vanuatu goal in typical Sunil Chhetri style.
Whenever India remains in desperate need of a goal, the Indian captain always seems to step up and rescue the team. A moment of immense joy and pride also leads us to question the future of the Indian attack after the magic man, Chhetri.
India remains on top of their group with 2 wins out of 2. This is Stimac’s men’s 7th win in a row and the future looks full of promise for this young and exciting squad. The attacking issues need to be addressed but we remain hopeful and confident in the team’s ability to always find a way through.
India’s next encounter in the Hero Intercontinental Cup is against Lebanon, second in the group on 15th June. India has already sealed their spot in the finals of the Cup and Lebanon looks likely to be their opponent. The last group stage fixture promises to be very exciting as a possible glimpse of the Intercontinental Cup final.
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