Indian Football Team was expected to move in the right direction after the arrival of Dutch tactician Wim Koevermans. The failure to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup could have been followed by an early exit at the SAFF Cup, barring a timely help from arch-rivals Pakistan. India laboured their way into Semi-finals in the most unconvincing fashion in this edition of SAFF Cup.

Maldives considered this outfit as the weakest ever ‘Indian Football Team‘, and in some ways it was true also. But they had to pay the price for underestimating their opponents as the Blue Tigers raised their bar timely to take their place in the SAFF Cup Finals yet again.

Even though Indian Football Team reached the finals, there were many flaws, from team selection to playing style. If the team management cannot arrest these slides immediately, Indian Football will remain in wilderness forever and the Indian Football Fraternity should only have to be content with their SAFF Cup performances like before. Progressing from the current state is very important, and raising the standards of Indian Football will play a key role in it.

Is there any progress from Bob Houghton Era?

The number of times Nirmal Chettri, Gourmangi Singh and Arnab Mondal launched long balls upfront will surpass the number of goal attempts made by India in this tournament! The long balls upfront, that too in search of skipper Sunil Chettri or Jewel Raja, both of whom are short in stature looks as clueless as Indian attacks. This approach has been heavily criticized before as well, but the players’ reluctance to adapt their game or the management’s inability to change the methods is puzzling to say the least.

In the semifinal, we saw a change in approach when India fielded a more physical Robin Singh upfront. For some reason, they put their long ball approach into bed and arguably it was India’s best performance in this edition of SAFF Cup. This was due to their better passing game coupled with the opponent’s long ball approach. Even with or without Robin Singh, or another target-man upfront, India should not take this route as it will hinder their progress forward. The fans finds it irritating to see the long kicks forward every now and then, which ultimately paves way for losing possession.

Diagonal balls might be a better alternative to open up opposition than this long ball approach. If some of the sources are  to be believed, India has been working on it along with the passing game! Better understanding of the game and a more disciplined tactical approach is needed there.

Wasn’t Wim Koevermans brought into change our approach from English style to Dutch style? Something which might suit the Indian players better considering their physical stature, but they need more stamina and fitness to adopt the modern game. Can they successfully implement the high pressing and passing game is a question lingering on every Indian Football fan’s mind.

Does Indian Football have enough firepower?

Indian Football team were blessed with strikers such as I M Vijayan and Baichung Bhutia in the past. Even though Sunil Chettri stands between the duo in the goal scoring charts, he has been a big disappointment in SAFF Cup. His travels abroad hasn’t helped his growth, and as a result he has lost confidence in his own abilities now. Playing abroad might increase the reputation and abilities of Indian players, but there is no equivalent to playing week-in and out.

Sunil Chettri - Indian Football's best bet currently

Sunil Chettri – Indian Football’s best bet currently

When it comes to present Indian forwards saying their conversion rate has been poor in this SAFF Cup will be in an understatement for sure. Fans haven’t seen such a pathetic strike force leading Indian attacks, it looked clueless on most of the occasions. Time and again, Indian strikers are missing the target while the lack of penetration is another area of concern. The gulf in gap between the foreign strikers and Indian counterparts in I-League is a clear evidence of where we stand in-terms of  firepower upfront.

The other two strikers in the squad Jeje Lalpekhula and Dawson Fernandez were seen more on the left wing. At a time when India are struggling for goals, this also looks as an imprudent  strategy from team management. Will a more central role for them can produce better results? It might bring better results, but an overall improvement in strike force is required for Indian Football to go forward.

Team Selection

Gourmangi Singh who had a disappointing last season has held on to his place due to his previous exploits, whereas one of the most consistent performers over the last season, Anas Edathodika is plying his trade for Pune FC in Durand cup. Raju Gaikwad who is more renowned for his long throws than defending has also made the cut ahead of Anas is a bit ironical. Taking over from Raju, new left back Nallapan Mohanraj is also in the team to provide those long throws while another candidate Saumik Dey had to settle for Calcutta Football League! Is Saumik the best Indian left back is another discussion topic, but most of the fans will agree that he is better than Mohanraj.

It is unsure whether the presence of former National Team coach Savio Medeira’s presence is playing a part in it or not, team selection often puzzles the pundits and critics alike. Many deserving candidates are often left in the subcontinent despite their impressive performances in the domestic circuit, including the ones in I-League. The selection committee often prefers the tried and tested candidates attested with a failure tag, despite their recent horrendous form. This unorthodox or poor strategical moves are sometimes very difficult to digest especially when one analyzes the starting line-up of Indian Football Team.

Is Jeje Lalpekhula India’s best left winger/midfielder? The absence of Vineeth CK and Lalrindike Ralte is another debate worth filling the front pages of news-papers.

How come Jewel Raja Sheikh occupies the number 10 role, despite his lack of flair, guile, vision and creativity in such a key position. Wim Koevermans says India hasn’t done well in 4-4-2 formation. Then, one would like to know about his opinion on the 4-4-1-1 formation which has failed to click so far?

There are many hindrances which prevents Indian Football’s progress in the right direction. Currently these problems stands out from the rest and Indian Football needs to deal with it in the best way possible to wake up from their slumber. Some of these problems, like having the team play in a specific style, may take some time to eradicate as a number of current Indian first teamers are too old to learn new things technically. However, there are also flaws related to team selection and tactics which can be ironed out in short-term. Fixing these smaller problems should be given utmost importance now, regardless of India’s final position in the SAFF Cup.