After winning a third consecutive Nehru Cup, India played its first international match, a FIFA friendly against Singapore yesterday at the latter’s more familiar Chao Chu Kang Stadium. In front of a crowd of mere three thousand fans, the Blue Tigers demoed a brave and gritty performance. But, the story of Indian football in foreign land repeated itself and India again succumbed to a heart crunching two nil defeat, to a slightly higher ranked side in the FIFA rankings to make sure that their poor away record stays intact. Let’s have a look at how the match went, highlighting the pivotal moments during the encounter.
INDIA: Subrata Pal (GK) ; Nirmal Chhetri, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Syed Rahim Nabi; Sanju Pradhan ,Mehtab Hossain, Lenny Rodrigues, Clifford Miranda; Francis Fernandes; Sunil Chhetri.
SINGAPORE: Izwan Mahbud (GK); Esah, Baharuddin, Khaizan, Jantan; Shi Jiyai, Mustafic, Harun, Sulaiman; Duric, F. Nawaz
India started the first half on a nervy note as the hosts pressed for an early advantage. Subrata Pal had to be called in to make a comfortable save inside five minutes. As the clock ticked on, India gained composure and started passing the ball with more purpose. The switch play between the overlapping full backs and the midfield was something which was done with a lot of ease. Despite the healthy possession, India was denied the opportunity to hit the back of the net, sometimes due to lack of the killer ball in the final third, and sometimes due to diligent defending by Harris Harun. Just when it looked that the match would see a goal-less first half, Singapore broke the deadlock. Lions XII striker, Khairul Amri, who was just bought onto replace injured Shi Jiyai, latched onto a poor clearance from Subrata, which was met by the head of Sulaiman and fell nicely for Khairul. The number nine jersey made no mistake and slotted the ball past diving Pal to give the hosts lead at halftime.
The hosts came back strongly in the second half and pressed for another opening. The Lions doubled their money just 4 minutes into the second half as Fazrul Nawaz scored finished off a wonderful move. The goalscorer from the first half turned provider for this one as Khairul Amri got the better of Syed Rahim Nabi to pull back the ball for Fazrul who made no mistakes. India’s suffered another blow when Chhetri suffered a minor blow to his right knee and was replaced by East Bengal’s lanky striker Robin Singh upfront. The change almost paid immediate dividends as Robin’s left footed volley flew over the crossbar. Wim Koevermans made some desperate changes towards the later stage of the game, as Joachim Abranches, Jewel Raja and Anthony Pereira were all thrown into the mix to yield some results, but all in vain. India, who are currently placed at 168 in the FIFA Rankings, were once again outplayed and tactically outdone by Singapore.
These are the sort of matches, from which Wim Koevermans and his team should be able to analyze and examine the strength of the squad, the key areas of improvement, more realistically than what Nehru Cup had to offer. It was certainly the first real acid test for the Dutch coach, and there is no denying the fact that “the change” Indian football fans are expecting, wont be be deployed over night. Certain time frames in yesterdays match provided a perfect was trailer to the movie which could finish of with a climax of breakthrough result in the favor of Blue Tigers.