India began their King's Cup campaign on a disappointing note as they lost to Curacao 3-1 in the semi-finals. The 101st ranked nation will now face either Vietnam or Thailand in the third-place playoffs and would like to end their campaign with a win.
India started off with a 4-2-3-1 formation with the duo of Rahul Bheke and Sandesh Jhingan in the center and Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose guarding the right and left wing respectively. Pronay Halder and Brandon Fernandes positioned themselves in front of the back four whereas Lallianzuala Chhangte and Udanta Singh were given the freedom to maraud the left and right wing respectively.
Sahal Abdul Samad stationed himself in the attacking midfield role and Sunil Chhetri led the pack. Raynier Fernandes, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, and Michael Soosairaj got their chance to prove themselves in the second half and, they played accordingly to the team's plans.
In this article, we look at players who shined for India (Hits) and those who underperformed (Flops).
#5 Hit- Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri wasn't at his usual best but performed far better than other regulars in the team like Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, and Subhasish Bose who committed some grave errors. The captain successfully converted his penalty in the 31st minute to give India a ray of hope for a comeback.
It might look simple to score a penalty but had he not put in all his power into the shot, the ball wouldn't have gone in. By doing so, Chhetri levelled Gerd Muller and Robbie Keane in terms of the number of goals scored in international matches.
He also played a lovely pass to Sahal in the late stages of the first half, who in turn set up Udanta with a first-time shot, which went away for a corner. It was India's best chance in the first half to get one more goal back.
With Brandon Fernandes gone and Raynier Fernandes and Amarjit Kiyam's previous corner-kicks being a disaster, Chhetri stepped up to take a corner-kick in the dying embers of the game. It whizzed past the entire Curacao defense and Jhingan stooped low to head it goalbound. However, the rival goalkeeper's brilliant reflexes meant the ball went away for another corner.
Chhetri wasn't at his usual best but still created a lot of problems. Once he settles with the new coach Igor Stimac, he would perform a lot better.
#4 Flop- Pronay Halder
As mentioned before, Pronay Halder and Brandon Fernandes were stationed in front of the back four but the former failed to do his job properly. Brandon isn't the type of midfielder who can prevent the opposition from having leeway in the midfield. His role was to lob long balls from deep which he did adequately.
However, Pronay didn't perform his duties as the defensive midfield as Curacao dictated the midfield and pace of the game. Curacao scored the first goal of the game with the entire backline in front of them. From a defensive midfielder point of view, this is something to be ashamed of.
Pronay's inability to accurately pass in the defensive midfield coupled India's problems. The Curacao players pressed him hard and won possession from him easily. He was substituted in the half-time interval to make way for Raynier Fernandes and the latter did his job brilliantly.
Igor Stimac is trying to build a team which can pass the ball around rather than play long balls every time. Pronay needs to up his passing game if he intends to remain in.
#3 Hit- Udanta Singh
Udanta Singh made his senior team debut against Iran in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and has been a mainstay in the right wing since then. Against Curacao, the 22-year-old once again justified his selection by bombarding crosses and getting the better of the opposition left-back countless time in the game.
He also timed his run perfectly to come into a scoring position in the 43rd minute but, the ball fell into his weaker foot and, he couldn't connect his shot properly.
In the second half, India attacked entirely through the right wing but ill-judgments in the final third evaded the danger for Curacao. Much of that credit has to be given to Udanta for reading the game well.
It looked as if Udanta would be the architect of India's second goal against Curacao but, as time wore out, he became more and more predictable.
#2 Flop- Pritam Kotal
When India were a goal behind, the team switched on to 3-4-3 momentarily with Pronay Halder slotting into the back-three and Pritam and Subhasish promoted into the wider roles in the midfield. However, his ineptness to hold the ball and pick up the passes meant Curacao found it easy to win the ball back whenever the ball fell into Pritam's feet.
In the second half, he did provide width to Udanta so that he can cut inside but was slow in tracking back. Rahul Bheke can be slotted into the right-back position if the coach finds a suitable candidate in the center-back.
Pritam Kotal needs to improve his game if he wants to stay in India's team.
#1 Hit- Sahal Abdul Samad
In a match of okayish and dreadful performances from the Indian players, Sahal Abdul Samad stood out among the rest and gave the Curacao players a run for their money. The Keralite's dribbling skills, ability to win fouls, and chemistry with Udanta and Chhetri meant the Carribean nation were constantly on their toes.
Sahal's youthful exuberance meant he never got tired and pressed the opposition continuously despite the harsh weather conditions of Buriram. He made some mispasses in the first half but corrected those in the second one, which led to a surge in India's possession.
He even won the penalty for India which the captain converted. Before boarding to Thailand, Chhetri told the media that the Kerala Blasters forward could be his next replacement. Going by debut, it looks like Sahal is on the right track.