In a game of two halves, India failed to capitalise on a two goal lead and instead defensive lapses saw them catapult to a defeat against Tajikistan in the opening match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019.
FULL-TIME: India 2-4 Tajikistan
India [Sunil Chhetri 3′(penalty), 41′]
Tajikistan [Komron Tursonov 56′, Sheriddin Boboev 58′, Muhammadjon Rahimov 71′, Shahrom Samiev 75′]
The defending champions India started the game with Sunil Chhetri the farthest man forward with Chhangte and Udanta Singh on the flanks. The midfield three had Anirudh Thapa in front of the back four while Amarjit Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad played ahead of him.
With Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika injured before the game, India started with a makeshift centre-back pairing of Adil Khan and the inexperienced 18-year-old defender Narender Gahlot. The fullback positions saw Rahul Bheke at right back and debutante Mandar Rao Desai on the left.
India started the game briskly and were in the lead in the third minute from a penalty. Sahal Abdul Samad fed the ball into the path of Mandar Rao Desai who was situated wide on the left flank. A first time pass by Mandar into the box saw Chhangte brought down by Asrorov and the referee pointed to the spot.
Step up Sunil Chhetri and the captain got the host nation in the lead with a sumptuous Panenka.
For the duration of the first half, the Indian team closed down Tajikistan quickly and offered them little space from which to penetrate the Indian defence. Sahal Abdul Samad drew players out of position and looked exceptional every time he got on the ball while Anirudh Thapa made critical interceptions to help out the back four.
Most of Tajikistan’s attack came from the left flank as they tried to go around the Indian defence. They won a spate of corners as well, but their superior physicality was let down by poor delivery and finishing. The debutante Narender Gahlot misread a couple of dangerous balls, but did not suffer any consequences – at least in the first half.
The Blue Tigers would double their lead in the 41st minute after Sunil Chhetri toe-poked the ball into the net from a driven ball from the left flank. The Indian captain now has 70 international goals from 109 appearances.
In the second half, Tajikistan came out with a strong intent to get something out of the game. They were more direct in their approach and an injection of pace left the Indian defence vulnerable with their lack of communication and cohesion obvious to see.
The Indian team would go onto concede four goals in the second half and all of them were down to individual mistakes and elementary lack of defending nous. While the stage looked too big for Narender Gahlot and Mandar Rao Desai, Adil Khan was culpable as well as the barebones defence sprung a leak.
India will next take on DPR Korea on the 13th of July and they do need to win their next two games to make it to the final. More importantly, they need to focus on their powers of concentration across the pitch and hope by Saturday, Sandesh and Anas are fit to restore some semblance of order in defence.