Igor Stimac’s first game as Indian football team ended in a defeat. India lost 1-3 to higher-ranked side Curacao in their opening match of the Kings Cup at Buriram, Thailand on Wednesday.
India started well and kept their shape for the first 15 minutes before Rolient Bonevacia put Curacao ahead in the 16th minute. Three minutes later, Curacao doubled their lead through Elson Hooi.
The Blue Tigers reduced the margin in the 31st minute when Sahal Abdul Samad was brought down inside the box. Captain Sunil Chhetri calmly slotted the ball into the net.
Before India could settle in their position, Curacao scored their third through Leandro Bacuna.
Let us look at the reasons behind India’s loss.
#3 Defensive issues came to haunt India again
During the Stephen Constantine era, one major concern was how the defensive frailties would be solved. Constantine tried to play different combinations and though it yielded impressive results, but cracked at crucial times.
It was thought the Igor Stimac would focus on this aspect but after going through the 23-man Indian squad for the Kings Cup it was clear that he wants to play with fire. Only five defenders were selected in the squad, which included inexperienced Rahul Bheke and veteran Adil Khan.
His team selection against Curacao raised few eyebrows and at the end of the game the result justified it. India’s weak defence was exposed repeatedly by a more technically and physically strong Curacao side.
Rahul Bheke, who is a natural full-back, was played as a central defender and the Mumbaikar lost the plot time and again. He was often moving to the left side, leaving a large gap between him and Sandesh Jhingan.
It took 20 minutes for Curacao to unlock the Indian defence. Rolieny Bonevacia quickly got past his marker and scored with his first touch from Nepomuceno’s cross.
Without getting the time to settle down, India conceded again and this time, the whole Indian defence stood like a school team. Bheke and Jhinghan were nowhere near Elson Hooi, who easily got past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to score the second.
The gap between the central defenders was opened up yet again just few moments after India reduced the margin. The miscommunication between Jhinghan and Bheke forced Pronay Halder to go deep and do the defensive job.
India were playing too defensive and paid the price.
Before next match, Stimac would surely go back to the drawing board and may bring Adil Khan to partner Jhinghan.