FULL-TIME: India 1-0 Thailand (17′ Anirudh Thapa [IND])
Thailand found the imperious Adil Khan to be a thorn in their side as the War Elephants slumped to a narrow defeat in the third place play-off match against India.
The game between the host nation Thailand and India today was to determine who will finish third out of the four countries participating in the tournament. In the final which also took place today, India’s opponents in the semi-final, Curaçao defeated Vietnam in a penalty shoot-out to lift the King’s Cup.
Thailand lost a keenly-contested battle against Vietnam in the other semi-final and needed a result against the Blue Tigers to salvage pride considering they are the host nation. Also, India had beaten them convincingly the last time the two sides met in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
With the hosts keen to make an impression, they started the game briskly. The Indian head coach Igor Štimac mentioned in the lead up to the game that the entire squad will get some playing time and the starting XI reflected that.
Amrinder Singh took his place in goal with Sandesh Jhingan and Adil Khan manning the centre-back positions. Rahul Bheke started as a right fullback and Subhasish Bose took up the other side. In midfield, India played a diamond with Thapa at the tip and Vinit Rai at the base. Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes were the wide midfielders with Balwant Singh the focal point of the attack and Farukh Choudhary in support.
The diamond in midfield meant they could contribute defensively all around the pitch when needed. The Blue Tigers like in the game against Curaçao were compact in the middle and forced Thailand to use width to launch their attacks.
The early exchanges heavily favoured Thailand, but it was India who broke the deadlock in the 17th minute against the run of play. A free kick into the box from Raynier Fernandes led to a melee in the Thai 18-yard box and the ball fell fortuitously in the path of Adil Khan. Adil would whip the ball across goal and a waiting Anriudh Thapa applied the finish at the far post. 1-0 to India!
After the Blue Tigers took the lead, India were under the cosh for the duration of the game as they went about defending their precious lead.
As Thailand attacked with gusto, Bheke found himself in no man’s land and was caught out of position a number of times. In fact, most of the Thai attacks originated from the left. The Indian forward Balwant Singh lacked support up front and without the ability to drop back in midfield, he cut a lonely figure up top and was ineffective.
Thailand won a spate of corners and pumped the ball in from wide areas, but Adil Khan stood tall and headed, blocked and hacked away at everything the Thai players came up with. The home team’s usual strategy was go wide and deliver a diagonal ball into the box. This caused a lot of problems with Anriudh Thapa clearing the ball off the line on one occasion.
India did have chances on the break, but wouldn’t end up taking them. Late in first half stoppage time, Farukh Choudhary was on towards goal without a defender in sight. However, visibly tired, he couldn’t show a clean pair of heels to the defender and ended up passing short to Balwant Singh who had made the run into the box alongside him. Raynier Fernandes hit the post in the second half and Manvir Singh who had come on for Balwant Singh almost got on the end of a Thai back pass.
The introduction of Manvir Singh helped the game stretch a bit across the pitch – for the most part, it was played/constricted to midfield. Igor also brought on Sahal and Jackichand Singh late in the second half and except for the third keeper Kamaljit Singh, the rest of the 23-man squad has had game time over the two matches played in Thailand.
The War Elephants would continue their desperate search for an equaliser as the game prodded towards the end, but the hard-working, gritty Indian midfield and defence held on to force the result in their favour.
A number of positives for the Indian team as they finish their King’s Cup campaign on a high and in third place. The midfield looks stacked and the defence was solid, although the fullback positioning needs addressing; The forward line needs options and at some point sooner rather than later, the coach Igor Štimac has to look to replace and find the next Sunil Chhetri.