India brushed aside Maldives challenge by notching up a comfortable 3-0 victory in their second match of the ongoing Nehru Cup campaign – courtesy, a goal by Mr Versatile of Team India – Syed Rahim Nabi – sandwiched between a brilliant brace by skipper Sunil Chhetri – who secured his second successive man of the match award in this edition of Nehru Cup.
India drew first blood in first half injury time when Sunil Chhetri calmly slotted the ball in, from the spot, after Maldives defender Mohamed Sifan had handled a cross by Syed Rahim Nabi inside the area.
Seven minutes in to the second half, Nabi timed his jump to perfection to find the back of the net with a powerful header off Clifford Miranda’s flag kick to give India a two goal cushion. Skipper Sunil Chhetri then sent the vociferous Delhi crowd in to frenzy by hammering the third nail in Maldives’ coffin with an acrobatic diving header off a Francis Fernandes cross with twenty minutes to go for the final whistle. In the end, it turned out to be a comfortable victory for Wim Koevermans’ boys. A large share of the credit must go to India’s midfield general Mehtab Hossain, who did all the hard work tirelessly which helped Indian midfield to dictate terms over their rivals and Maldives failed to breach the Indian defense led by Gourmangi Singh throughout the stipulated 90 minutes.
Emphasis On Wing Play Is A Welcome Sign
An honest assessment of Team India’s performance in Bob Houghton’s regime would reveal a glaring gaffe of under-utilization of wingers. The one dimensional usage of wings only to whip in aerial crosses towards the opposition box is now a thing of past. It is a welcome sign under Wim Koevermans to see the Indian players trying to make the most optimal use of spaces on wide areas of the pitch. The overlapping runs of both the wing-backs – Nirmal Chhetri and Syed Rahim Nabi, and the link up play with their wing-half partners – Sanju Pradhan and Clifford Miranda respectively, seemed to have a telepathic correletion.
India Need To Groom A Dead Ball Specialist
A free-kick specialist has the capability to turn a game on its head with in the blink of an eye. Looking back at the history of Indian football, it is quite evident that India, too, had their fair share of such rare talents. The game of football has witnessed some truly gifted rare talents, who have taken the delivery of a free kick to the verge of being an art form. Although India did manage to score a goal against Maldives from one of Clifford Miranda corners, the Blue Tigers, so far, have failed to make the most out of set-piece situations. Both Clifford Miranda and Anthony Pereira can be useful in indirect set-piece situations and flag-kicks, but they lack precision and power to make an impact from the free-kicks on the edge of the box. Mehtab Hossain has tremendous power in his shots and his deliveries are fairly acurate, but his bullet-esque right-footers lack that magical drift required to decieve a quality goalkeeper.
Wim Koevermans will have to keep an eye on upcoming I-League season and try to identify a couple of promising players who can be groomed to take up this responsibility in years to come. Among the current crop of players, young Sanju Pradhan can be one of the contenders for this role. Among national age group level players, Goan midfielder Brandon Fernandes and Mizo winger Lalrindika Ralte have the potential to become successful free kick specialist for Team India in near future.
Defense Still Remains An Area of Concern
Although the Indian defenders dished out a much improved performance compared to their display against Syria in the opening encounter, it still leaves a lot to be desired. The way Maldives skipper Ali Ashfaq penetrated Indian defense on as many as three occasions, indicates that there is still a big scope of improvement. The Indian think-tank has employed an unusually high line of defense in this Nehru Cup. With two very offensive-minded full backs, who like to bomb forward at every possible opportunity, there is every chance that the Indian defense might get caught napping against any quick counter attacks.
Koevermans, well aware of this potential catastrophe, has so far managed to nullify this fragility of his defense by playing Mehtab Hossain and Lenny Rodrigues as a double layered defensive screen, but it is more of a circumvention measure than being a full proof resolution – as it adversely affects India’s creativity at the center of the park and India can not afford to compromise on Mehtab Hossain’s creative vision, because he is the one who binds all the eleven Indian players together – which enables India to operate like a well-oiled machine.
Overall, this was another encouraging performance which takes India closer to defending their title.