Although they fell short of securing a qualifying berth for the upcoming AFC U-22 Asian Cup, the brave-hearts of India U-22 team won the bigger battle – they made Asian football fraternity to wake up and take note of their immense potential, which their predecessors had failed to do in better part of last three decades or so. With two wins, one draw and two defeats, team India finished their campaign at a respectable 4th position in a group, which was widely anticipated to be the Group of Death in this edition of the qualifiers.

From the tactical perspective, the newly appointed coach of India U-22 team, Arthur Papas, took a bold decision to do away with the obsolete 4-4-2 formation and moulded the team in a flexible 4-3-3 formation, which often turned in to a 4-5-1 or 4–4-1-1 depending upon the match situation. For a change, it was a treat to the eye to witness India play a short-passing brand of football. Besides, the deployment of a central defensive midfielder to help out the four-men Indian defense proved to be the right decision from team’s point of view because the defense line-up was always a suspect for this team. Although the team got a very short period to get themselves acclimatized with this new brand of possession football, the youngsters deserve a lot of credit for adopting to Arthur Papasai??i?? tactics with sincerity and dedication.


India 5-2 Lebanon:

Team India kicked-off their campaign on an exemplary note by notching up a brilliant 5-2 win over Lebanon, who incidentally lie twenty places above India in the latest FIFA rankings. Riding on couple of braces by attacking midfielder Alwyn George and skipper Jeje Lalpekhlua – after Manandeep Singh had put India ahead with a brilliant header within quarter of an hour’s play – India breezed past the Cedars in a ruthless display of possession-based attacking football.

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On the right track - India U-22 team

Iraq 2-1 India:

Next in line was a formidable Iraq outfit – ranked 7th in the continental level and 83 places above their Indian counterparts at 81st position in FIFA world rankings. The Blue Tigers did not crumble down against the hot favorites of the tournament, but produced a spirited display – going down 1-2 in the process. Alwyn George was once again the star performer for Team India scoring a fabulous second half goal by shrugging off three Iraqi defenders before chipping the ball over an onrushing goalkeeper.


UAE 1-1 India:

India’s third match of the campaign was against another Asian powerhouse, the United Arab Emirates. The 116th rank team in the world under the guidance of experienced Baler Sadih were expected to notch up a comfortable win against India, but what transpired on the pitch was no less than an anticlimax. Team India did not wilt down after conceding an early goal and played out of their skin to restore parity in the dying minutes of second half after producing a barrage of attack on the rival citadel. Romeo Fernandes, who came on as a second half sub, proved to be Arthur Papas’ trump card as he found the equalizer two minutes from final whistle to hold UAE to a 1-1 stalemate.


India 4-1 Turkmenistan:

Up against Turkmenistan in the penultimate match, India needed a win to keep their hopes alive of progressing to the main event. Arthur Papas’ boys not only registered a victory, but also did a world of good to their goal-difference statistics by blowing them apart 4-1. Lalrindika Ralte, Alwyn George, Romeo Fernandes and Jeje Lalpekhlua – all four embraced their names on the scoring chart as India collected 10 points ahead of their last match in this qualifying campaign against hosts Oman.


Oman 4-0 India:

India still had a slim chance of qualifying if they could register a victory against Oman, albeit with the help of a Iraqi win against UAE in the other match of Group-A. However, law of average got hold of Indian team in that crucial match and even after dominating the proceedings for most part of stipulated 90 minutes time, they succumbed to a disappointing 0-4 loss. After a barren first forty five minutes which could not produce any goals, in a span of just twenty minutes, Oman sealed the match by finding the back of Indian net on four occasions. It was indeed a disappointing end to their promising campaign, but the Indian players would have their chins up as they not only managed to live up to the expectations, but also exceeded it by miles. By collecting seven points from five matches, India U-22 team ended their Group-A campaign securing the fourth spot in the final standings.

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Papas & his boys

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Top-3 Performers

Alwyn George:

The Pailan Arrows midfielder has arguably been India’s best player of the tournament. Alwyn notched up four goals and assisted in another two. Arthur Papas mostly used him as a roaming midfielder in a flexible 4-3-3 formation, which often changed shape to 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 as the situation demanded. Alwyn was a live-wire on the pitch. Mesmerizing dribbling abilities and an eye for the goal were two attributes which made him a player to watch out for. His brilliant goal against Iraq where he dribbled past three rival defenders before cleverly outsmarting the Iraqi goalkeeper with a delicious chip, deserves special mention.


Lalrindika Ralte:

The 20 year old Mizo lad impressed the critics with his skillful and hard-working display. It was his telepathic communication with Alwyn that created majority of Indian goals in the tournament. He created space for Jeje and Manandeep by constantly peppering the rival defense with his bagful of trickery – thus dragging the defenders out of their comfort zone. Dika’s marauding runs down the left wing along with his accurate delivery from set-piece situations made him stand apart from the rest. His off-the-ball movement deserves special accolades.


Gurpreet Singh Sandhu:

The stand-in skipper gave a good account of himself guarding the Indian citadel with confidence and conviction. To be fair, the East Bengal goalie couldnai??i??t do much about the goals he had to concede as his defense let him down time and again. Assured handling and effective ball distribution were the hallmark of Gurpreet’s performance in this tournament, where he has made a number of crucial saves. Famous English goalkeeper and Ten Sports commentator John Burridge, who had mentored well-known goalkeepers like Paul Robinson and Ali Al-Habsi, was highly impressed by Gurpreet’s abilities and he expressed his desire to work with the 6’5” tall Punjabi lad and transform him into a world-class keeper.

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  • Rahul

    >> To be fair, the East Bengal goalie couldn’t do much about the goals he had to concede as his defense let him down time and again << How did you come to above conclusion that the defense was bad ?