Group A: FULL-TIME: India 0-1 Bahrain
Bahrain: Jamal Rashid [90+1′]
India stayed away from the kind of football that helped them reach within touching distance of the knockout rounds and as a consequence ended up crashing out of the competition at the group stage.
Needing a win or a draw against Bahrain to qualify, India started with two defensive midfielders in Pronay Halder and Rowllin Borges with a plan to defend deep and play on the counter. With the team selection, it was obvious they were looking for a draw rather than a win.
The plan lived well on paper, but went kaput the moment the Indian team stepped onto the playing field. The decision to play Rowllin Borges instead of the forward-thinking and composed Anirudh Thapa played into the hands of the opposition.
Rowllin Borges look uncomfortable both on and off the ball earlier in the tournament and today’s game was no different.
With Bahrain keeping most of the possession, India could barely string a couple of passes together to launch a counter-attack whenever there was a turnover in their favour. The two teams went into the half-time break with Bahrain looking on point to break the deadlock.
In the second half, India defended even deeper in their own half if that was even possible and lumped the ball forward in possession. The tactic however failed miserably with poor hold-up play and the long balls neither in space nor to a teammate.
Bahrain peppered the Indian goal throughout the second half and while Sandesh Jhingan and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu kept India in the game, the Indian resistance eventually wore off.
The captain for tonight’s game, Pronay Halder brought down Bahrain’s Al Shamsan around the 90 minute mark and the resulting penalty was scored by Jamal Rashid.
UAE drew their final Group A fixture against Thailand and that meant India with three points ended up last in their group and with that, the remote possibility of qualifying as the best third-placed team went out the window.
India will be left to rue missed opportunities in the game against UAE, but more importantly the approach to tonight’s game to put it plainly was wrong. They did not have a shot on target in the entire game.
Maybe you can defend for one half of the game, but to defend for two complete halves of football and draw the kind of pressure onto yourself will only result in defeat.
With the loss today, India have slipped down six places to 102 in the FIFA Rankings. The Coach Stephen Constantine has stepped down following India’s AFC Asian Cup exit and it remains to be seen if a progressive coach is appointed by the AIFF to take the Blue Tigers forward.