India’s King’s Cup campaign was about players getting acquainted with Igor Stimac’s methods and him trying to get a vivid understanding of their techniques and footballing habits rather than winning the competition.
Stimac was true to his words of giving everyone a fair bit of chance to impress the gaffer. He gave everyone, but the third choice goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh, at least thirty minutes to show their skill set.
Stimac played with 4-3-3 in the games against Curacao and 4-3-1-2 against Thailand which reshaped into 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 during different transitions.
The first game against Curacao saw Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal and a back four comprising of Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke and Subhashish Bose.
Bheke at centre-back raised a few eyebrows and his performance couldn’t prove the fans wrong. He was caught out of place. His positioning was wrong.
Bheke's performance at the heart of the defence could be best explained by the third goal India conceded against Curacao.
He went ahead to intercept the ball, which he couldn’t, leaving behind ample space in the back for Bacuna to score. The centre-back pairing of Jhingan and Bheke seemed clueless most of the time.
Stimac started with Amrinder Singh in the goal against Thailand in the second game and Bheke, Jhingan, Adil Khan and Subhashish shielding the goalkeeper.
Adil Khan returned to the Indian national team after seven long years and left no stone unturned to impress the gaffer.
He gave everything, won defensive and aerial duels, tackled when necessary, blocked important shots and provided assist for the only goal India scored. Jhingan, Adil playing together for the first time did not show any incompetence.
Rahul Bheke vs. Pritam Kotal
Bheke’s numbers in 2018-19 speaks volumes about the talent he possesses and he deserved a start at the right back position owing to his excellent outings for Bengaluru FC.
Bheke starting in his favoured position could not replicate the performance he produced for Bengaluru FC.
His attacking ability is second to none but against Thailand he got caught more often while attacking and leaving open field for the Thai left winger to operate.
The Midfield Combinations
Stimac preferred Pronay Haldar, Shahal Abdul and Brandon Fernandes as the midfield trio in the first game and the quartet of Anirudh Thapa, Raynier Fernanders, Amarjit Singh and Vinit Rai in the second game, with Thapa playing just in front.
Pronay was not his usual self and Brandon struggled against the superior European based footballers of Curacao.
It led Stimac to change the personnel in the midfield and brought in Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes substituting Brandon and Pronay in the beginning of the second half.
Amarjit and Raynier played beautifully in the second half to the coach’s liking and cemented their place in the second game. Amarjit’s display was impressive enough to earn him the tag of best player from the coach.
Shahal Abdul had been a creative force in the first game and was brilliant with the ball on his feet. His dribbling, small passes, beating the opponent with slight dropping of shoulders was eye-catching.
Thapa has been the best midfielder for India in recent times and he showed again why he is quintessential for the Blue Tigers.
He is a relentless runner off the ball, presses the opponent defence high up the field, wins every second ball, provides cover to the defense, breaks opponents attack, provides good crosses and set-pieces and ticks all the boxes for a good midfielder.
Vinit Rai was a nice addition to the starting XI. He broke opponent’s attack a number of times, good when needed to carry the ball forward. Pronay Haldar’s days are limited if Vinit Rai keeps on performing the way he did against Thailand.
It’s been a while since Sunil Chhetri played as a lone forward. Stimac started with Udanta Singh and the highly rated Lallianzuala Chhangte in the wings and Chhetri as the target man against Curaco. It didn’t work out well.
Chhetri found difficulty in connecting with the wingers. He failed to play the little one two he quiet often played with Jeje Lalpekhlua or other strikers.
He tried a different combination in the game against Thailand with Farukh Choudhary and Balwant Singh leading the attack. They could not produce much in front of the opponent’s goal.
Farukh got a tremendous opportunity when he was one on one with the Thai goalkeeper just at the end of first half rather he waited for his teammate to join him and gave a lacklustre pass which the opponent intercepted.
He tried to make amends in the second half when his shot hit the opponent’s bar and luck was not in his favour.
Indian football team is in the process of re-building and getting acquainted to Stimac’s methods. The two games in the King’s Cup does give a picture of how Stimac will carry forward with the proceedings.
He likes a player who could carry forward the ball from his own defence and this would mean Pronay Haldar being benched and one of Raynier Fernandes or Vinit Rai slotting in the defensive midfield position.
Thapa’s stupendous performance, Amarjit’s calmness on the ball and Shahal’s silkiness and creativity would give the gaffer a headache to select his starting line-up for the next game, which is good from India's point of view.
India’s left wing is still a problem. No one seems to cement that place or even be a contender for that slot. All the attacks seems to come from the right hand side, with Udanta leading the charge.
King’s Cup has been a success with the gaffer getting a close look at all the probables of the National team.