[Continued from – Part-1]

Here is our second instalment of the series analysing the individual performances dished out by the players in India’s recently concluded AFC Challenge Cup qualification campaign. While Part-1 presented TheHardTackle’s views on the Outstanding Performers, Part-2 of the performance report card deals with the other Valuable Contributors.

Valuable Contributors

1. Jewel Raja Shaikh – 6

Jewel’s was undoubtedly the most impressive debut after Jeje. Playing his first senior international game, the promising midfielder came in as a substitute for Steven Dias late in the second half against Chinese Taipei and performed way over the expectations, ensuring India’s win with a debut goal in the dying minutes of the match. Jewel got hold of a teasing delivery from Sunil Chhetri just outside the 18 yards box and unleashed a well placed powerful drive to find the back of the net to cap off a memorable debut. He got a well-deserved opportunity to start from the very beginning against Turkmenistan, and did not let his team down. Playing in the centre of the midfield, he looked unruffled as he kept the ball rolling around. Sharing the midfield responsibility with fellow Indian Arrows’ team-mate Shilton D’Silva, the duo looked far more threatening than Rakesh Masih and Jagpreet Singh combo which Houghton had preferred in the first two matches.

Jewel Raja Shaikh is an excellent mix of aggression with caution and he will surely become more mature with such exposure tours. His vision of the game, decision making ability, passing and shooting are truly outstanding. However, he should work on improving his pace, which will eventually help him in having a decent head-start over his marker while going for attack.

A “Jewel”? Certainly he is.

2. Joaquim Abranches – 6

Lightening pace and excellent ball control are the readily visible qualities in this lanky Goan winger. He came on as a sub for N.S. Manju in the first match against Chinese Taipei and showed glimpse of attacking intent in a 20 minutes cameo appearance. Then in the third match against Turkmenistan, Joaquim got an opportunity in the starting line-up and he looked menacing on the right flank with his bag full of trickeries. In fact Jeje Lalpekhlua’s goal which restored parity for India was scored from Joaquim’s delicious through ball. A wonderful exchanged of passes between Shilton D’Silva and Joaquim saw the latter producing a defense piercing pass to find Jeje lurking just outside the Turkmenistan 18 yards box, and the rest is history. Joaquim’s telepathic understanding to be on the same wavelength with Shilton and Jeje is another satisfying aspect of his game and these three, along with Jewel, if properly groomed, can keep the tri-color flying high in near future.

It has been proved time and again that he is pure quality. All Joaquim needs at this moment is more time on the pitch to enhance his skills and his performance in the qualifiers is a strong reason in supporting this argument that he deserves more playing time for the national team.

3. Raju Gaekwad – 5.5

Another debutant who showed a lot of promise. The Indian Arrows central defender was deployed at the right wing back position against Chinese Taipei and did not put a foot wrong. He had to warm the bench against Pakistan as Anwar Ali regained match fitness and was drafted in to the team. However, he was called in to action late in the second half in place of Steven Dias – mainly as a time wasting tactic and also to have an extra man at the back – and Raju did this job admirably. He got another chance to prove his mettle against Turkmenistan as Gourmangi Singh was rested – this time at his most preferred position at centre-back. However, things didn’t go as per the script this time as his last ditched tackle on Begli Annageldiyev inside the area awarded Turkmenistan with a spot-kick and they took the lead in the match. Leaving out that one mistake which cost us that penalty, Raju was solid in his defensive duty.

Raju Gaekwad is certainly the one who can be trusted to take up more load in the future. He has a matured head over his shoulders and his match-reading ability is also top notch. Few more international exposure will do world of good to his confidence and he can develop in to a better all-round player. Another aspect of his game that brings in value to the side is his ability to take long, Delap-esque throw-ins. If utilized properly those long throws towards the opposition box can add a new dimension to India’s attack.

Future looks bright for the Blue Tigers

4. N.S. Manju – 5.5

Returning from a career threatening injury, Manju had a lot to prove in this competition as he was out of competitive football for almost an year. Houghton had shown a lot of trust on Manju even in the past and even this time around it was no exception. Manju was handed back his preferred left back slot while Raju, Govin and Denzil shared the right back slot among themselves. Manju was decent against Chinese Taipei; he looked to curb his attacking intentions and concentrated more on the defending responsibility. It was a wise move by Houghton to substitute him around the 70th minute mark in his first competitive game after making a confident return to full fitness. In the second match against Pakistan, he was more assured and provided Rahim Nabi with adequate support while attacking.

However, he is not getting any younger and the injury has robbed him off a yard of pace. It was evident against Pakistan as he was unable to restrict Arif Mehmood’s run on the right wing. Although only a part of the blame lies with Manju as Anwar Ali, playing at the heart of defense, preferred to sit back and did not show the urgency to help out the left back in his valiant attempt to stop Arif. Manju was rested for the last game as Bob decided to try out young but promising Mohan Raj as the left full back.

5. Shilton D’Silva – 5.5

Another debutant, another product of the Indian Arrows scheme of things and just like his promising team-mates Shilton is also supremely talented. He made his senior international debut as a late second half substitute for Rakesh Masih at the heart of the midfield against Chinese Taipei and the impact was evident immediately, as a fine string of passes between Shilton and Sunil made the way for Jewel Raja’s first ever goal in national colors on his maiden appearance. Against Pakistan, he again got only a few minutes of playing time after replacing Jagpreet Singh around the 85th minute of the match. He got the nod to start along with Jewel in central midfield in the last match against Turkmenistan and the midfield combo was impressive to say the least. He will definitely get his chances to showcase his potential in the near future, however, to be very frank Shilton was largely under-utilized by Bob Houghton in this tournament.

Going by the performances in this competition, Shilton-Jewel duo seemed to be a better bet compared to Rakesh-Jagpreet combo as far as creativity from the centre of the park is concerned.