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SAFF Championship 2021: Baffling team selection and toothless attack – What we learned from India’s 0-0 draw against Sri Lanka

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It was another frustrating afternoon for the beleaguered Indian head coach Igor Stimac.

His troops went up against a Sri Lankan side that is ranked 98-places behind them in the FIFA rankings and not only did the team fail to bag three points but they also looked insipid, disjointed, and clueless. And Igor Stimac has to face the brunt, along with the players who underperformed. 

India’s starting XI was baffling, to say the least. Even after 19 matches, the Croatian is yet to find his best XI. He made three changes to the side that drew 1-1 against Bangladesh and yet the performance hardly improved. He started with Suresh Singh and Glan Martins in midfield, two defensive midfielders, in a match where India should be looking to crush the opponents with a flurry of attacks.

Although the Blue Tigers did dominate possession there was hardly any creativity in the attacking third. Sahal Abdul Samad was brought 68 minutes after kick-off. 

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka executed their plan to perfection. They stuck to the basics, were resolute in defence, and walked away with a valuable point at the end of the game. 

Let us take a look at the three key points from the match. 

Farukh Choudhary India Sri Lanka SAFF Championship 2021

Atrocious finishing 

At a time when chances are coming at a premium, a team should bury the bare minimum that they create. Throughout the 90 minutes India created around two-and-a-half chances and all of them went begging.

In the first half, Liston Colaco was unmarked and yet could not test Sri Lanka’s keeper with his header, let alone score. And, in the second half, Subhasish Bose could only balloon his shot over the crossbar from close-range despite having a clear shot at the goal.

At the international level, you are expected to convert these simple chances and failing to do so further highlights the plight of Indian football at large. 

India struggles to breakdown teams

The Indian team earned plaudits for drawing against Qatar in Doha in 2019 and also did a commendable job in the reverse fixture of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, although went down by a goal to the reigning Asian champions. In both the matches, they did not have to take the initiative and instead defended with two banks of four against a formidable Qatari side. However, the team has struggled on most occasions where they have had to grow out of their cocoon and pull the strings. 

The 1-1 draw against Bangladesh at the Salt Lake Stadium and the previous one in SAFF Championship, the recent friendlies against Nepal in September, and the latest snoozefest against Sri Lanka are evidence to establish that Stimac’s India struggles to break down teams who prefer to sit back and defend.

The task gets all the more difficult when you choose to field two defensive midfielders instead of an attack-minded player. 

Mission accomplished for Sri Lanka 

Amir Alagic’s men walked away with a point, a memorable result, and with their heads held high. They did not try doing fancy, outrageous things but stuck to their game plan, which was to defend resolutely and prevent India from getting into a rhythm. They set themselves up in a 5-4-1 formation and hardly gave away any space at the back. They allowed India to get into their half and then tightened the noose with fervent running and soft fouls.

The Golden Army did not let go of any opportunity to make a meal of an injury and their goalkeeper Sujan Perera even complained of cramps during the final minutes of the match. Hence there were four additional minutes at the end of the first half and 10 after the regulation time. 

However, all these crude tactics did get them the result they were looking for. They now have a point to show for their efforts after losing to Nepal. 


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