Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019: 3 areas Stimac needs to fix before the World Cup qualifiers

Igor Stimac
Igor Stimac

Igor Stimac had an intense training setup based in Delhi before the commencement of the Kings Cup during the first week of June in Thailand. Since the Croat is going through the experimentation process, as high as 37 players were called up for the camp, but the squad was trimmed to 23 players for the tournament.

The Blues took on Curacao in the first game, but the opponents were utterly dominant from minute one. The Caribbean Island had a star-filled side with many players plying their trade in the top European divisions. Since Curacao had the breakneck pace to exploit the Indian defence, the whole team succumbed. Sunil Chhetri scored the only penalty in the 3-1 defeat during the first game in Thailand.

While facing the hosts in the second game, Igor Stimac's side stood up to the task defensively. Anirudh Thapa scored the only goal in the game during the first half, but India proved their resilience by keeping their defensive shape intact. There were many instances of extending the lead, but the forwards failed to convert the chances.

With many takeaways from those two games, Igor Stimac is working on a particular blueprint to make India as an Asian force soon. He is also hoping to get the calculations right for the World Cup Qualifiers which kicks off in September.

Similarly to the preparations of the Kings Cup, the Indian gaffer has cut down his side to 25 after naming 35 for the training camp.

After a decent initiation to Stimac's Indian career, he will take his side to Ahmedabad to play Tajikistan, Syria, and North Korea in the Intercontinental Cup. The four-side tournament will be held in TransStadia between July 7 and 19.

We shall look at the three areas which require improvement in the Intercontinental Cup as the World Cup Qualifiers looms.

#1 Centre-Back

Sandesh Jhingan
Sandesh Jhingan

Decision making is a crucial aspect for any defender. Indian Centre-backs are mostly 'react' than 'read' defenders - making it life difficult for the other backline colleagues to do the spare work at times. Sandesh Jhingan has a good pace to compete with top-notch strikers and has a good physique to shut down the opponents, but he needs to work on his decision making than anything else.

The Kerala Blasters defender was poor in both the game against Curacao and Thailand. Rahul Bheke showed early jittery against Thailand through his primary position, but he had a decent outing - playing as a centre-back against Curacao when Jhingan was all over the place.

The squad was announced by Igor Stimac for the Intercontinental Cup on Friday. Anas Edathodika has also announced his wish to carry on with his national team, albeit confirming his retirement months ago. He will partner up with his former Kerala Blasters teammate Sandesh Jhingan in the backline.

Adil Khan looked rock solid against Thailand, retains his place in the squad. The young Narender Gahlot has been slotted in the squad and he might get game time. The Indian boss will have his fixed eye on this position during this tournament.

#2 Central Midfield

Pronay Halder
Pronay Halder

The central midfield department is another position needing improvement. There is no shortage of energy and work rate, but creativity has been inferior. It was the same case under Stephen Constantine, but things failed to change in the Kings Cup. The forwards are overreliant on the innovation from Anirudh Thapa, who has been provided with the freedom to help out the forwards.

Pronay Halder has been the mainstay in the midfield department - leading the young midfielders alongside him. Vinit Rai, Sahal Abdul, and Amarjit Singh showed their glimpses in the Kings Cup, but they are yet to cement their place in the starting lineup.

Rowlin Borges has been used as a defensive midfielder for his country, but he was well off in an advanced position - proving a great asset in that position with his former club NorthEast United last season. There is no scarcity for quality, but Stimac needs to find the perfectly-balanced midfield which can contribute to the defensive and offensive areas.

#3 Left Wing

Brandon Fernandes in Goa colours
Brandon Fernandes in Goa colours

Udanta Singh, who is India's best wide attacking player, occupies the right flank for the Blues. It has been a major problem for India to find a proper left winger over the last few years. None of them have stamped their authority in the team and it has prompted Stimac to hand out debuts to Brandon Fernandes and Lallianzuala Chhangte.

During the game against Curacao, Brandon Fernandes played behind Sunil Chhetri through the middle, while Lallianzuala Chhangte was used as a left wing. The young forward along with the substitute Michael Soosairaj's cameo did not come to India's assist as they fail to convince their manager.

Soosairaj has failed to restore his name in the squad, but Stimac has retained his trust on Fernandes and Chhangte. Brandon Fernandes was arguably the best Indian performer in the ISL, whereas Chhangte showed his raw pace to stretch the opponents.

Brandon Fernandes will be the favourite to start in that position, but Chhangte can compete with him. This is another position which needs sorting before the World Cup Qualifiers.

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Edited by Kingshuk Kusari
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