If this is the future of Indian football then we have to improve by leaps and bounds. Another game where the Indian midfield disappointed and the strikers were left with little or nothing to play for. 1-1 it finished on the night at Balewadi, after the 1-3 loss in the first leg, but the disappointment was there to see on the faces of everyone at Balewadi. It’s not the scoreline that disappointed those who besieged the stadium to cheer the men in blue; it’s the manner in which India played. Desmond Bulpin started with the same team despite an average performance put in by some of the players in the first leg. Jewel Raja and Shilton D’Silva in the centre of the park looked a total misfit in the first game and it was surprising to see Bulpin not playing Zakeer Mundampara in midfield.
India’s first chance came in the 15th minute when Sabeeth cleverly got passed his marker to meet a delightful ball from Lalrindika Ralte but he failed to connect with his header and the ball went wide. Sabeeth should have at least got the header on target. A couple of minutes later Abdul Aziz Ansari’s shot was well saved by Indian goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani. The game made a dull start and the first 20 minutes saw long balls played and a scrappy game by the Indians. But then a stroke of luck for the Indians came in the 20th minute. Murad Naji Hussein was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box earning a yellow card, even though replays suggested he was just trying to fend off a shot from Jeje. The penalty taken by Lalrindika was saved by the goalkeeper who dived to his left and effected a one handed save. Had that penalty gone in it would have probably been a different story. Qatar then went on to dominate proceedings in the next fifteen minutes with Hasan Al Haydous, Al Sadd’s prolific scorer, creating problem for Raju Gaekwad and company. In one instance he ran past Shilton D’Silva with a sudden burst of acceleration and took the ball right into the box, but over dribbled resulting in the ball going out for a goal kick.
The Indian defense was constantly troubled by the adventuring troika of Elneel, Al Ansari and Haydous. Five minutes before half time, India got a triple chance. First Jewel raja’s shot from a free kick was scooped by the Qatari goalkeeper, two minutes later Jeje came up with a delightful chip after seeing the keeper off his line, but Saad al Sheeb recovered well to tip the ball over the bar and then just before half time a Jewel Raja shot couldn’t get a touch from Shilton who was just two yards out.
At half time there was plenty of talking from Bulpin but he missed a trick or two again. Zakeer should have definitely come on at half time and Salgaocar’s young winger Anthony Barboza too should have got a look in, in place of the disappointing Jibon Singh on the right of midfield. But Bulpin chose to stick with the same eleven after half time.
Soon after the restart an Al Ansari shot brought off a great save by Kattimani who dived to his right palming the ball away from goal. India again took time to settle down and there were aimless long balls galore. Then a lifeline thrown by the Qatari goalkeeper. An innocuous back pass from Khaled resulted in the goalkeeper making a complete mess of it, the ball rolled into the net much to the delight of the home crowd and India was 1-0 up with 35 minutes gone. That was just the stroke of luck that the Indians needed to lift their game. India then enjoyed a long spell of domination but couldn’t find the second goal that would take them through to the group stages of qualification. There was plenty of ball possession for the Indians in that period but again, aimless long balls didn’t help their cause. The midfield lost its shape and was not getting forward in numbers. Though the defense was thwarting every Qatari attack, the midfield and the overlapping defenders were non existent.
Bulpin then replaced Sabeeth with Maninder that added some fresh legs to the Indian attack. Then came India’s moment in the 72nd minute, a moment that could have put India 2-0 up. A lovely through ball by Jewel found Jeje on the left who had only the goalkeeper to beat but his weak shot off his left foot was easily saved. As if to rub salt in India’s wounds, a minute later, Qatar found he equaliser through Elneel who blasted a brilliant volley past Kattimani. By then it was all over. India needed to score three more to progress or two more to take the game to extra time, but the Qatari defence stood tall negotiating the very sparse Indian attacks. 1-1 it finished on the night with Qatar going through to the group stages of qualification.
Disappointing performance from India to say the least. Des Bulpin failed to learn form the mistakes of the first leg. Playing Jewel and Shilton in midfield again after the poor performance in Doha smacked of stubbornness. India had Zakeer in the squad and he should have definitely started the second half if not the first. Anthony Barboza too should have played a role in the game. Jibon Singh on the right was non existent. Bulpins refusal to change a system that was faltering was indeed disappointing.
When will we ever learn to stop playing aimless long balls? If this is how the Indian Arrows team has learnt to play in the last year then be rest assured that the AIFF’s decision of fielding this team is a total disaster for Indian football. We time and again spend big money on hiring foreign coaches but if this is the style of play we get form them then God help Indian football. When will we learn to pass the ball and build up play from the back. Armando Colaco has a mountain to climb and it will take at least a year to instill Dempo’s passing game in India’s future generation of players. The overlapping was nowhere on the scene, the midfield looked like a warped carom board that completely lost its shape. It looked like we were playing eight in defense and the two strikers up front. No link up play between defense and attack. Shilton and Jewel had another shocker. Bulpins talk before the game of going all out was a total joke.
Eight of India’s boys will join the preparatory camp for the senior team. It’s all up to Armando Colaco now. We can’t look for miracles but if Armando can instill the passing game in India’s future, irrespective of the outcome, he should be knighted. Losing is not the question, what matters is the kind of football you play, the kind of shape you keep and the chances you create. People deserve their monies worth. They didn’t come to see aimless long balls being played.
It’s up to the Messiah now. Over to you coach Armando.