Arthur Pappas’ young contingent took on the mighty Iraq side, who are favorites to win the group, at the Royal Oman Police Stadium in Muscat yesterday. Coming afresh after their spanking victory over the Lebanese in the last match, this young Indian team had already ruffled a lot of feathers coming into this match. ‘Resurgence‘ was the word trending among the Indian Football faithful. The team ranked lowly 164 in the FIFA rankings was up against a team who had history on their side. Iraq won the AFC Asia Cup in 2007 and is ranked 74th, but that hardly made a difference to the Blue Cubs, as they looked to stack back to back victories.
India starting eleven: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Vishal Kumar, Souvik Ghosh, Prathamesh Maulinkar, Narayan Das, Pronoy Halder Milan Singh, Lalrindika Ralte, Alwyn George, Manandeep Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua (C)
India made as many as four changes to the side which successfully outwitted the Lebanon side a few days back. Vishal Kumar replaced Deepak Devrani at the back to counter the physical nature of the Iraqi players upfront, and minimizing the threat from the dead ball situation. Jeje Lalpekhlua, started the match with nineteen year old Manandeep Singh. Dempo SC prodigy Prathamesh Maulinker took his position at the centre of defense as Souvik treaded the usual left back path.
India started off anxiously as the Lions of Mesopotamia shared the lion’s share of possession early in the half. India were found defending for their lives as waves of Iraqi attacks hit the Indian wall at the back. Finally, India gave away the precious first strike to the men from the West Asia as a Jawad Kadhim cross duly found its man in Ali Mohammed Alialah, and the captain made no mistakes this time, heading it past diving Gurpreet Singh into the net in the thirty fifth minute.
Misery piled on for the Blue Cubs as their influential captain Jeje limped off the field and was replaced by Holicharan Narzary upfront, just three minutes after falling back. The best two moments for Indians to restore parity came during the later stages of the first half as Narzary scored almost with his first touch. His header deflected back for a corner. Manandeep, who was seen chasing down all the balls inside the opponent half, too got his chance of glory four minutes before the lemon break, but the shot from the Haryana lad was cleared for a corner by Alialah. India went into the break trailing the Iraqis by one goal.
India’s organisation is good. – Baler Sadih, UAE Coach who was present at the stadium, assessing the Indian team.
India were pushed back early in the second half as well, as Ammar Abdul Hussein headed in a second goal. Just when everyone was expecting another drubbing and a more than comfortable victory for the west Asian side, the young Indian brigade hit the reform button and started playing impressive football. George Alwyn and Dika Ralte impressed with their understanding, quick give and go’s, which was surely stirring the Iraqi defense.
All the determination finally paid off in the eighty second minute when George Alwyn netted his third of the tournament, dancing past four opponents and placing the ball into the net. The last dozen minutes were nervy for the Iraqi side as they clinched on to garner all three points. Although, Indians left the royal Oman police stadium with no points in this match, their grit and determination did induce raising of some eyebrows at the end.
I have watched and played against many an Indian team in the past. But this team is the best one I have seen. - Hakeem Shakir, Iraq Coach
Indians would be hoping to come back even more strongly against UAE on Thursday and come right back into the group.
India aren’t sticking to one formation. They are constantly changing. Sometimes it’s 4-3-2-1; the next moment it’s 4-3-1-2 and then 4-3-3. Such teams are always dangerous.
These were the comments of the UAE coach Baler Sadih, whose side take on the Indians two days from now. In both the matches, one thing which has stood out and got noticed among the football pundits is the way this Indian side changes the formation at will. Arthur Pappas has clearly incepted this change, wherein one of the strikers plays an important role of helping the mid field for some part of the match, having a lone striker upfront. India started off with 4-3-3, with Jeje and Alwyn taking the right and left flank respectively, and Manandeep Singh being the target man.
During the first half, Manandeep was seen switching into the midfield, chasing the ball and tackling for it. Even Alwyn was seen tracking back a lot, as if trying to let the midfield of Ralte-Halder-Milan play short passes, build the attacks and move forward with them. This comes as a breath of fresh air to the Indians as the impact of Rob Baan and Pappas seems to be quite imminent on the way this team is plying its trade in these qualifiers.
Oman 3-2 Lebanon
UAE 1-0 Turkmenistan
India – UAE (Thursday)