India vs Jordan: Stephen Constantine's central defence problem is of his own making
The past few years have seen the Indian football team enjoy a decent run at the international stage. Though there have been hiccups on the way, the recent SAFF Championships loss being the latest, one cannot ignore that fact that the team has gone on to stitch together a string of fine results when it mattered the most. This run has now seen them qualify for the all-important 2019 AFC Asian Cup next year.
One of the hallmarks of this team has been its core. A group of players that head coach Stephen Constantine has done well to persist with, especially when the results have not gone their way. And the players too have responded well to this faith shown by the head coach.
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Skipper Sunil Chhetri has been nothing short of a one-man army in the attack with the likes of Udanta Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua doing well to support him. After an initial chopping-and-changing that saw them test out a number of candidates in the heart of the defence, Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika have made the place ahead of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal, their own.
But with less than 60 days to go for what will arguably be the biggest test for this Indian side at the Asian Cup, Constantine is facing a big problem.
While the attack looks to be in fine fettle with Chhetri ageing like a fine wine and leading the charge, it's the defence that's set to give the Englishman a headache. And this could primarily be because of the personnel he has at his disposal.
While Jhingan has gone about his business in a very Hollywood-like style, notching up 19 tackles, six interceptions and 44 clearances in the six Indian Super League (ISL) games he's played for the Kerala Blasters so far, the same can't be said about Edathodika.
The 31-year-old centre-back's return from injury has not gone as per plan. He is yet to start a game for the Blasters in the ISL and looked very jaded in the few minutes that he played against China in the friendly game. This could be a reason that Constantine tried Subhasish Bose, a full-back by trait, in the centre-back role against China.
And with Bose justifying the faith with a fine show that night, it won't be a surprise if Constantine chooses to go ahead with this change. Moreover, his club Mumbai City FC too seemed to have tried this change. The 23-year-old defender has turned out as the centre-back for Mumbai in a few games this season, complementing Lucian Goian with his pace and ariel presence.
However, the problem doesn't end there for the Indian team. While Bose has proved his adaptability and versatility, Constantine is still in search of a suitable full-back to throw in if he chooses to go ahead with Bose as the centre-back. While Narayan Das has been his preferred choice, the Delhi Dynamos' defender has been hardly threatening in the attack and is prone to errors in defence, something that has cost his side dearly.
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But if the Indian head coach decides to take his blinders off and look a little deeper into the talent pool, he can surely find the likes of Rahul Bheke, Lalruatthara and Jerry Lalrinzuala, players capable of filling in the spot and thereby allowing him to slot Bose in the heart of the defence.
While Lalrinzuala has been called up for the Indian camp for the Jordan friendly due in a week's time, it still remains to be seen if Constantine exercises the option or sticks to his guns and gives his chosen ones a longer run in the Indian colours.