With no wins from six previous matches in both the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers and the Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers, the pressure was starting to build on India’s head coach, Igor Stimac. The Croatian has only been given a three-month extension till September 2021 and if reports are to be believed, then he is on his way out. However, for now, the Indian captain Sunil Chhetri has brought some relief in the camp as his brace against Bangladesh gave India its first win in the qualifiers.
Out of the three matches in the qualifiers that were supposed to be played in June, the one against the Asian champions Qatar was always going to be too far out of India’s reach. So the ones against Bangladesh and Afghanistan were the ones that would determine the next steps for the team in its pursuit of qualifying for the Asian Cup in 2023. The team has gotten off to a great start with three points against Bangladesh and here are the highlights from the game.
‘CAPTAIN LEADER LEGEND’ DOES IT AGAIN
The number of times Sunil Chhetri has bailed India out of tricky situations is unreal. The impact the forward has had on Indian football is probably bigger than any of its servants and his name will go down in the history as the greatest Indian footballer of all time. Yet again, when India needed him most, up stepped the captain and broke the deadlock on the 79th minute with a deft header. If his first goal was a typical Sunil Chhetri goal, then the second one was even better. With some clever movements in the box, he made a decisive finish and sealed the three points for his side. Team India is lucky to have someone like Chhetri leading the line for the team and the man keeps outperforming his expectations on a regular basis.
BRANDON FERNANDES WAS CLASS APART
This was a match where the team needed to string a few quality passes together in the final third and needed someone who has an eye to pick out such passes. Stimac went for Brandon Fernandes and the Goan midfielder delivered. Brandon is the most technically gifted player in the squad, and in the six games so far, all of India’s goals in the qualifiers had come via a Brandon assist. The creative midfielder yet again showed his class for the national side and created the most number of chances in the game against Bangladesh. His delivery from set-pieces was always on point and he brilliantly controlled the tempo of the game in the middle of the park.
INDIA IMPROVING ON SET-PIECES
Brandon kept delivering dangerous set-pieces but India kept missing these glorious chances. There was a goal-line clearance off Chinglensana Singh’s header, while Sandesh Jhingan and Sunil Chhetri had crosses set up on a platter for them to head for a goal, but the duo failed to keep them on target. Throughout the 90 minutes, India were quite dominant from set-pieces and could have easily scored 3-4 goals from these situations.
NEXT UP LIES AFGHANISTAN
Overall, the coach would be happy with the way the team dominated possession and kept building from the back against a lower-ranked team like Bangladesh, but these players have more potential. The two goals would give confidence to the team as they were able to break the compact low block of the team and this would help them when they come up against Afghanistan next up on June 14. At the start of the campaign, India’s realistic aim was always to finish third in their group and they can do so with a win in their next game.
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