India began their Intercontinental Cup journey with a dramatic loss to Tajikistan, as the hosts bowed down with a scoreline of 2-4. After a dominant first half was justified with two goals from Sunil Chhetri, the Blue Tigers forgot the basics, conceding 4 after half-time.
Igor Stimac, as usual, experimented with his lineup for the tournament opener. Mandar Rao Dessai and Narender Gahlot made their first start in the Indian senior team outfit. The defence was a gamble without Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose. In the midfield too, the coach opted for youth by handing yet another start to 18-year-old Amarjit Singh Kiyam.
India started off the game well, opening the scoresheet in the 4th minute. Mandar offered a ball to Lallianzuala Chhangte in the box. The young winger was taken down by the Tajikistan defender, leading to a penalty. Sunil Chhetri made no mistake in beating the keeper. Later in the half, Chhangte's ball to Chhetri was again converted at ease, doubling the lead for the hosts. Adil Khan remained a rock at the back, throughout the half.
However, things turned upside down from the whistle for the second half. Komron Tursunov opened the scoring in the 56th minute. A minute after Chhetri missed an opportunity for a hat-trick, Sheriddin Boboev levelled the terms in the 59th minute. Muhammadjon Rahimov was the next to beat Gurpreet Singh, through a long ball from the back. Shahrom Samiev settled things for Tajikistan with his goal in the 74th minute.
Igor Stimac's debut at home will go down as a bitter experience but will leave him with a lot of learnings. Here, we scrutinize 3 reasons why India went down to the 120th ranked side.
#3 A lineup with lapses
The teamsheet that came minutes before kickoff caught many by surprise. India's faithful centre-back Sandesh Jhingan was on the bench because of an injury that kept him out of training the previous day. It was also announced that the 25-man squad was again trimmed by dropping Anas Edathodika and Pronay Halder. All these three names proved crucial as their absences were felt on the field.
Igor Stimac was again brave by offering two debuts at the defence. The other two defenders on duty, Adil Khan and Rahul Bheke too were not experienced in the Indian colours. At midfield, inexperience was felt in the form of Amarjit Singh and Sahal Abdul Samad. Lallianzuala Chhangte, Udanta Singh and Anirudh Thapa were challenged by their weaker physique at the centre of the park.
Rowllin Borges in the midfield and Subhasish Bose or Pritam Kotal at the back would have been a better choice by Stimac.
#2 Poor communication in defence
Igor Stimac's first victory as the Indian coach came against Thailand in the King's Cup, which showcased a perfect defensive display. Sandesh Jhingan and Adil Khan had combined forces to be an impressive wall in front of the keeper. However, Adil missed his partner on the field against Tajikistan. As a replacement, the gaffer chose young Narender Gahlot, who failed to meet his objectives.
While Adil Khan was up to the mark in the first half, Gahlot was troubled right from the beginning. The Jamshedpur FC defender's inexperience was well exploited by the Tajik attackers. India's downfall began in the second half when Adil failed to communicate with his partner. This pulled down the stopper's confidence which led to numerous costly errors. These mistakes were evident as the defence line failed to mark and restrict the opponents in the defensive third.
Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Dessai too didn't have the best of outings as both were regularly targeted by the Tajikistan midfielders. Mandar was placed at an advanced position from the defence line. Bheke's wing was attacked constantly, which resulted in back-to-back corners.
#1 A second-half collapse
The Blue Tigers had everything going according to the plan in the first half. Sunil Chhetri and Co. attacked right from the start. The wings were well used by Udanta Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte. The two-goal cushion earned thanks to the brace by Chhetri was well guarded for the first 45 minutes.
Things turned upside down when match restarted after half-time. Tajikistan gained a level of confidence that India couldn't match up to. The blue shirts lacked fitness throughout the second half. Stimac's substitutions were not the best and failed to create an impact on the game.
In attack, India lacked quality and missed opportunities at the end. Sunil Chhetri missed a golden opportunity a few minutes from the restart. The wingers who shined in the first half were kept quiet later on. Sahal Abdul Samad and Anirudh Thapa did not recreate the magic in the midfield.
Gahlot and Adil relied on the two goals and were clearly at fault for most of the conceded nettings. Custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu too was caught out of position at times.
Overall, India gave away the match to the visitors at ease with their careless attitude in the second half.