2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifier: Did the Goa pitch play spoilsport in India's 2-2 draw vs Myanmar?
India toiled hard to eke out a 2-2 draw against Myanmar at the Fatorda Stadium, in Goa, on Tuesday. After a string of impressive performances that let the Blue Tigers to a 12-match unbeaten run ahead of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier, there was a lot of expectation on the Indian football team’s shoulders.
These expectations soon turned into dust, as the Myanmar surged forward straight from the kickoff, and went on to score within 13 seconds, to take the 1-0 lead. At this point, the Indians looked completely out of sorts, as their opponents ran riot.
However, are they Indians to blame for this apparent lack of co-ordination between themselves?
Over the last couple of years, India had been playing their home games at either the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, or the Andheri Sports Complex, in Mumbai. The Blue Tigers had been playing their AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Bengaluru, while they were hosting their International Friendlies. They had also hosted most of their training camps in Mumbai.
One big difference between the Bengaluru and Mumbai venues, and that of Goa on the night of the Myanmar match was the pitch. While both Bengaluru and Mumbai offered the players, what is often called a ‘green carpet’, it was exactly the opposite case in Goa.
Both the All India Football Federation and the Goa Football Association faced flak for the state of the pitch at the Fatorda Stadium, or the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Goa, on Tuesday.
Like on previous occasions, India had held their training camp ahead of this match in Mumbai as well, a venue that provides the players with a smooth pitch to practice their core skills. However, the same set of players, who had put out mouth-watering displays against the likes of Kyrgyz Republic, Myanmar and Macau, failed to conjure up the same form, as they conceded two poor goals in the first half.
The Indian midfielders also evidently struggled to create chances against the Burmese. A part of this can be attributed to the fact that their opponents played a high-tempo game, closing India down very well inside their own half. However, the pitch could also have possibly played a major role in this poor display by the Blue Tigers.
Right after India had conceded the first goal, centreback Sandesh Jhingan seeed to have made a rare error in judgement, while he was trying to pass the ball back to goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh. Jhingan’s pass was did not have the proper pace, and ended up right at the feet of Kyaw Ko Ko, putting the Burmese striker through on goal. Thankfully for India, an outstretched leg by Gurpreet kept India in the game.
An uneven pitch hinders with the swift passing movement, a tactic that has been largely used by India over the last few months, to gain victories over their opposition. With their quick ground passing being cut out, the Indian midfield and defence looked in shambles.
Interestingly, none of the four goals during the match were scored via a good passing move. Myanmar’s 13-second goal by Yan Niang came from wingplay, while their second goal came from a long-ranger by Kyaw Ko Ko. Kyaw's shot took a weird bobble, as goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh fumbled the save, letting the ball trickle into the goal.
Meanwhile, India’s goals also came from a penalty and wingplay, respectively.
The state of the Goa pitch, brings into question the decision to host an international match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. This comes at a time when other grounds, which offer the players better pitches, are available across the country.
The overall picture of Indian football has been painted brightly as the country hosted the FIFA U17 World Cup, while stars from the world of football like Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane are also set to grace the country’s marquee footballing event, the Indian Super League, which is set to get underway in a couple of days.
However, with pitches like the one that was on offer in Goa during a national team game, questions are bound to be asked about whether the growth of football is all about the glitz of the ISL and the World Cup, or whether India actually cares about its players and the national team as well.