A new chapter in Indian football unfolded on the picturesque Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex as India U-22 team, playing a brand of well-orchestrated “Total Football” outclassed their Lebanon counterparts by 5-2 margin to register a convincing victory in their opening AFC U-22 Asian Cup qualifier campaign. Manandeep Singh gave India an early lead in the 16th minute before Alwyn George’s spectacular individual effort doubled India’s lead with 5 minutes to go for the lemon break.
Lebanon pulled one back just after the change of ends, but within five minutes Alwyn completed his brace to restore India’s two goal cushion. Lebanon reduced the margin to 3-2 when Abdul Fatah found the back of the net with 20 minutes remaining for the final whistle, but their joy was short-lived as skipper Jeje Lalpekhlua made it 4-2 the very next minute. The skipper, who started as a sub, added one more goal to his name in the injury time to complete the 5-2 rout.
It’s a huge boost for Arthur Papas and his boys as they displayed great composure and maturity in playing the possession brand of football, which was a largely regarded as an oxymoron to Indian football in last decade or so. Arthur Papas cleared his first litmus test with distinction marks. It’s not the end result, but the manner in which the result was achieved, mattered the most to the Indian football followers.
A Welcome Change From A Tactical Point Of View
It was a breath of fresh air to see team India line-up in a formation which was alien to them till a few days ago. Right from the very first day of Bob Houghton’s regime, India would invariably deploy a 4-4-2 formation irrespective of the opponent or their style of play. Armando Colaco, during his brief tenure as a stop-gap coach, tried to temper with the obsolete 4-4-2 formation and brought in a defensive shield in Mehtab Hossain to line his team up in a 4-1-3-2 strategy with decent success. Armando’s appointment was a step forward, but Indian football took two steps in the backward direction with Armando’s exit and Savio Medeira’s arrival as the long ball strategy made its reappearance in the Indian dressing room.
The appointment of Rob Baan as Indian football’s technical director opened the door of “Total Football” in India, and the subsequent appointment of Arthur Papas and Wim Koevermans as coach of India U-22 and senior team respectively, further enhanced India’s emphasis to adopt to the passing game. Gone are the days of 4-4-2 where the team knew only one way of playing the game – whip in long balls from everywhere on the pitch in to the opposition box and hope against hope that either of the two strikers, who would realistically be six inches shorter compared to the opposition defenders, would somehow manage to head the ball in the back of the net. Arthur Papas took a bold decision to go in with a single center forward and a roaming supporting striker just ahead of the four men midfield. Besides a central defensive midfielder was employed to help out the four-men Indian defense – which many considered as the weakest link of this U-22 squad. The team got a very short period to get them accustomed to this new brand of possession football, but the youngsters deserve credit for adopting to Arthur Papas’ tactics with renewed vigor.
Alwyn George And Lalrindika Ralte – Two For The Future
The main architect of this thrashing win are two of the versatile talents in this India U-22 line-up, 20 years old TFA graduate Alwyn George and Mizo lad Lalrindika Ralte, who is a year younger to Alwyn. While Alwyn can play as a central midfielder, a withdrawn striker or as a roaming attacking midfielder; Ralte is equally competent on either of the wings and can step in to the shoes of either left or right fullback with ease. The duo mesmerized a few handful Indian football faithful at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex yesterday.
Ralte, with his mazy runs, troubled the Lebanese defenders and whipped in a number of teasing crosses from the left-wing. His pace and bagful of trickery were of sublime quality. On the other hand, Alwyn was an epitome of consistency and displayed a tireless performance by playing the dual role of a roaming midfielder and supporting striker. It was no surprise to see India drew the first blood in 16th minute of the game with contributions from this deadly duo. Especially Alwyn’s off the ball runs deserve special mention here. Alwyn and Ralte combined well to stitch a string of passes on the left-wing before the latter provided an inch perfect cross which Manandeep converted with a well-timed header. By the end of stipulated 90 minutes, Alwyn scored a brilliant brace, while Ralte, although could not feature in scoring chart, notched up two assists to his name. Still a long way to go for these two youngsters, but if they can sustain this level of development under the mentor-ship of Arthur Papas, they will turn out to be assets for senior Indian team in a couple of years time.
Defense Remains An Area of Concern
It was a satisfactory victory, no denying of the fact, but Arthur Papas will not be a satisfied person until he finds out the solution for India’s unconvincing defending. India had to concede two goals because of two costly defensive lapses. Omar Kurdi was the first to beat India stand-in captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu after a communication gap between Deepak Devrani and Souvik Ghosh gave him just enough time to unleash a powerful shot. The Ceaders made it 3-2 from a defensive melee with 20 minutes to go for the final whistle when Abdul Fatah took advantage of being in an unmarked position inside the D area while all the Indian defenders had their eyes glued to the ball.
The central defensive partnership of Deepak Devrani and Souvik Ghosh leaves a lot to be desired. Souvik’s inclination to shift position towards the left side to restrict wide players from sending crosses at-times creates a void in the central defense. Devrani, on the other hand, had too much to do on his own just after recovering from a prolonged injury. Going by the performance against Lebanon, Souvik would be suited more on the left back position, while Arthur Papas would have to look to his reserve bench for Deepak’s central defensive partner. Pramathesh Maulingkar could have been an automatic choice had he been fully fit. Arthur Papas would be hoping that the Dempo SC product will be able to recover fully ahead of India’s second match against Iraq on 25th June.