The Indian team came into the Asia Cup embroiled in controversy, but have put all that aside and provided two strong performances against two of the top Asian sides. Following an impressive victory against Thailand, India put out an efficient performance against the UAE before eventually going down 2-0.
The Indian game plan was easy to read- roll the ball back to Gurpreet, kick it as far away from their own goal as possible and then the forwards were to use their pace and try to get on the end of it. Simple, but seemingly efficient. Rolling the ball back towards Gurpreet was a trigger that pulled the entire UAE team up the pitch, as they attempted to press the ball. This created space behind the defence for the Indians to attack.
The biggest benefit to the Indians was that the UAE defence repeatedly allowed the ball to bounce, giving Ashique and Udanta the opportunity to contest for the second ball. To the credit of the two youngsters, they consistently won the ball and then put in good dribbles in behind the defence and allowed India to seize the initiative.
Like I mentioned in the pre-match thread, Ashique and Sunil had to cut access to the opposition DM and force the UAE CBs to play it long. That was the easiest way for us to win the ball back, and that was exactly what we did.
UAE didn’t really have a deep-lying playmaker type of player on the pitch. They played with 3 very functional central midfielders and as a result, they were lazy with their passing in midfield. By crowding this zone, India managed to pick up the loose balls first and then break at pace. Almost every chance India created in the game can be traced back to cutting out the pass from defence to midfield or by forcing the DMs to make a difficult pass.
UAE had close to 70% possession in this game but most of it was in front of the Indians and Stephen Constantine would have been very happy with his boys. On the rare occasion that UAE won the second ball after they launched it long, Ali Mabkhout tended to vacate the central striker’s zone and try to arrive late in the box. This made it easier for Sandesh and Anas to attack the ball and harder for the crosser to find a target to hit.
Unfortunately for India, the defensive stability wasn’t meant to last and the Emarati side got their goal from a hopeful punt up the field. Anas and Jhingan let the ball bounce and then failed to clear it, allowing Mabkhout to play in Khalfan Mubarak. Anirudh Thapa made the recovery run from midfield but couldn’t get close enough as the UAE wide man finished from a tight angle.
In the second 45 the Blue Tigers started well, but then Majed Hasan came on in the 64th minute and put a passing exhibition and took the sting out of the game. The central midfielder was excellent at putting his foot in at the right time to kill counters but most importantly he was magnificent in controlling the flow of the game. His razor sharp passing from deep midfield into the attackers took the entire Indian midfield out of the game.
Another tactical issue was the introduction of Jeje. The Mizo Sniper gave us a focal point and target to play around in attack but he tends to play alongside the CBs rather than the DM like Ashique and Sunil. This allowed Majed Hasan a more time and space and he fully abused what he was given. The Indian midfield had to react to this by pushing higher up the pitch but that was the end of their game as it opened up the half spaces behind.
Despite creating all the good chances in the game, the Blue Tigers went back empty handed with a 2-0 defeat. Still secure in 2nd place overall, India will need to avoid a loss to qualify for the next round of the AFC Asia Cup 2019. Three points & a positive GD looks like it will be enough to qualify as one of the best third place teams, at the very least.
The Expected Goals report of this match is self explanatory, we created all the good chances in the game and deserved at least a point.
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