As a preparation for their upcoming World Cup qualifier match against UAE, India took on Maldives and Qatar in two away friendlies on the 10th and 17th of July respectively. Although India managed to draw against the weaker of the two – Maldives, they scored a stunning victory over their much fancied opponents- Qatar.
TheHardTackle reviews both these international friendlies played by the Indian senior team, before the first leg of their Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against UAE which would be the acid test for Armando Colaco’s men.
Rasmee Dhandu Stadium, Male
July 10, 2011
This away fixture of India against Maldives was the first official match for Armando Colaco in charge of the senior team after the Englishman- Bob Houghton gave in his papers following a bitter stand-off against India’s football governing body – The AIFF.
The “Red Snappers” have had the history of frustrating the Indians on the pitch and last Sunday was no different. Former Dempo SC coach couldn’t do much to change the script this time as well; his men in blue being held to a 1-1 draw in his debut match as their head coach in Male.
In the absence of Bhutia, Delhi boy Sunil Chhetri wore the captain’s armband and gave the visitors the lead in the 18th minute as he headed a Steven Dais’s cross into the back of Maldives’ net. India’s U-23 skipper Raju Gaikwad, who impressed the football pundits during India’s Olympic qualifier last month, started as a central defender alongside Churchill Brother’s Gouramangi Singh. They did not see much of the action after the first goal as the match was primarily played in Maldives’ half.
Andrés Cruciani – the Argentine coach of the hosts, would be repenting his decision to rest their skipper Ali Ashfaq as the Indian midfield came hard at the home team once they tasted blood. Jeje however, was having a torrid time in front as he missed couple of sitters which would have left the visitors in a commanding position early in the first half. In the 43rd minute Chhetri fed Jeje a superb pass but the young Indian Arrow striker squandered yet another golden opportunity and was only able to hit the woodwork from a short range. This miss would come back to haunt the Indians in the very next minute as the “Red Snappers” equalized through Mukhtar Naseer.
Ashfaq was finally unleashed in the second half and his inclusion made a huge difference in the game of the home team. Indians dominated the first half but the islanders got the better of their higher ranked opponents in the last quarter of an hour. The match at Male would have seen a winner had it not been for the poor finishing skills on display by the forwards of both the teams.
Al Sadd Stadium, Qatar
July 17, 2011
India made a huge statement ahead of their first leg of the World Cup qualifier, by getting the better of Qatar by two goals to one last night at the Al Sadd stadium. A win over a far superior side especially after a disappointing draw against Maldives over a week ago, shows that slowly but surely the Bhangra Boys have started adapting themselves to the Armando Colaco style of play.
Surprisingly, Armando made only a single change in the starting eleven as Dias made way for Ralte on the right flank. Indian goalkeeper, Subrata Pal took over from Chhetri as the captain of the team for the first time in his career.
Like last week, India were offensive from the start and this time again it was Chhetri who broke the deadlock by calmly slotting in a penalty in the 16th minute of the match. India played a possession game, which came as breath of fresh air and also helped the visitors to dominate the proceedings for a large part of the first half as the home team looked out of sorts – much to the dismay of the spectators.
With an eye on the upcoming World Cup qualifier on Saturday, the Indian coach made ten substitutions during the half time.
The story of their previous friendly repeated itself as India was totally dominated in the second half by their trailing hosts, leaving the visitors to depend solely on counter-attacks. One such attack came with close to quarter of an hour remaining, as Harmanjot provided a cross via Baljit Sahni to Sushil, who made no mistake to score the second of the night for the “Bhangra Boys”, leaving the home fans shell-shocked. Qatar got one back immediately in the 74th minute but India did just enough to hold on to the one goal advantage which paved way for a historic win for the men in blue.
Lessons learnt for the big acid test
This win over Qatar, who are 53 places over India in the FIFA ranking will go a long way in lifting up the morale of the entire Indian squad. What makes this win even sweeter is the fact that this is the first time in almost seven years that India has won an away friendly match, which is bound to give them a self belief as they prepare to take on UAE, in the first leg of the 2014 World Cup qualifier.
After the match the Indian coach said, “The World Cup Qualifier against UAE is our acid test. It’s a tough mountain to climb. Hence, we needed to get the combination right.”
He also added “We needed to execute our plans on the field. As a coach it gives me satisfaction that the boys have responded well. But there’s a lot still to be achieved.“
After seeing the number of changes he made at the stroke of halftime against Qatar, it is difficult to suggest whether he has indeed got the combination for Saturday’s match but the positivity in his voice is a clear indicator the our lads will not go down without a fight.
One prime area where some serious work needs to be done before Saturday is our team’s performance in the second half. India pressed too much in the first half, which led their opponents to dominate them completely in the second period, especially in the first match . This cannot be repeated against UAE, otherwise Indians will be left with a stiff mountain to climb during the second leg in Delhi.
Also, Jeje’s form has been a cause of concern for India but the young boy is only learning. Although, don’t be surprised if Armando decides to name Sushil over the young Arrows striker in the starting eleven against UAE come this Saturday.