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Football India : Lessons from the Iraq game

India yesterday played their first international friendly match during their their final preparations in Dubai for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup . And they faced the defending Asian Cup champions Iraq in neighbouring Sharjah and lost 0-2 against the west Asian side. But let us look at the lessons that Bob Houghton and his coaching staff would have gotten from this match.

One thing which was visible in the game was that the it was a high intensity encounter. And India were able to keep pace with the quick Iraqis and except on two/three occasions didn’t really look out of sorts. That was really encouraging to see.

Goalkeeper Subrata Pal played a solid match, but had a hand in both Iraqi goals. And at this high level a keeper of Subrata’s class isn’t even allowed one mistake in a match. Ask Germany’s Oliver Kahn at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, who made only one mistake and lost the World Cup title. Maybe too big a comparison but it explains perfectly what I am trying to say.
The first goal Subrata conceded himself due to the foul on Mustafa Kareem, who scored of the resultant penalty. The second one happened as Subrata wasn’t able to collect or clear a shot from a Iraqi midfielder, which travelled around in the box before being placed into the goal by captain Mahdi Kareem. Otherwise Subrata was a secure customer, he collected crosses or long rangers with ease. But again, two mistakes and two goals for which Subrata will curse himself. Subrata himself will know that he needs to reduce these mistakes to zero level at the Asian Cup.

Our central defence looked strong. Not only Gouramangi Singh continued with his strong performances, but Anwar was a solid partner yesterday as the Punjabi lad was finally looking match-fit and he was able to block or run down the Iraqis with his physical presence. Our wing-backs weren’t always safe as Surkumar continues to be a wonder box, when he’s good he can be amongst the best or likewise amongst the worst, while Syed Rahim Nabi in the first half and Mahesh Gawli in the second session looked suspect as the Iraqis often used their right flank to attack and get crosses in. Once more Mahesh didn’t look comfortable in that left back position, so Bob needs to look at other options if Samir Naik doesn’t regain fitness before the Asian Cup. I think that N.S. Manju is a better option in that position, maybe even Deepak Mondal.

In midfield we have a problem in the middle. Climax Lawrence continues to be a pale shadow of himself. Surely Climax had more defensive burden yesterday with young Rakesh Masih playing his part a little more offensive, still I expect someone with Climax’s experience to be able to be more omnipresent in the game. Sadly we have had problem with Climax, Pradeep and the others, and we don’t have a readymade solution here. In a more offensive approach, surely Masih could be a good option after the performance yesterday, even Baldeep and Mehraj have done their job well in recent friendlies, but against tougher opposition, we need to be there. And these younger players need to be ably led by someone like Climax.
In yesterday’s game Steven Dias and Anthony Pereira rarely got a chance to break free on their flanks and get crosses in, actually Anthony didn’t even get one cross in. And this could happen at the Asian Cup against tough defenders plus their defensive workload would be higher like it was yesterday. Still they are our best and need more such matches under their belt.

Upfront we have a problem if Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri aren’t available. Sushil Kumar Singh, Abhishek Yadav and Mohammed Rafi tried their best; but the Iraqis seemed to be a level too high for them on this day. The best amongst this trio was Sushil who did try shots on goal, beat his marker, run into open space and had India’s best chances. But it just wasn’t enough to score.

Still overall the team showed spirit, fought until the end and didn’t let us down. But Bob and his boys have enough work to do over the next two month’s until we are ready for the Asian Cup. With some boys still injured Bob might have to think about replacements or bringing in youngsters late into the squad. There are some boys, who are showing signs of maturity in the Asian Games at the moment. But Bob isn’t someone who makes too many changes in his squad, he trusts his boys, who often then repay that trust.

What do you think? Do you agree or think differently???

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