Calls for India head coach Igor Stimac to be sacked flooded the timeline as the Indian players trudged off the field on Thursday. They had just played out a goalless draw with Sri Lanka, who, according to FIFA rankings, are in the bottom 10 teams in the world.
As the referee blew the full-time whistle at the Maldives National Football Stadium in Male, Maldives, Indian football fans went into meltdown on social media. They had just witnessed one of the most awful performances and humiliating results by the Blue Tigers in recent memory.
One shot on target, a weak one which was collected easily by goalkeeper Sujan Perera, doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. An alarming lack of creativity and penetration meant that Perera was untroubled by India throughout the game.
The biggest talking point before the game was the Indian defense, which had no recognized centre-back. Chinglensana Singh, the only centre-back in the squad, was left on the bench. Stimac opted for the pairing of Subhashish Bose and Rahul Bheke, with Seriton Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai at full-back.
India went with a 4-3-3 with Glan Martins acting as a defensive midfielder in front of the aforementioned back four. Anirudh Thapa and Suresh Singh Wangjam completed the midfield triumvirate, playing as box-to-box No.8s.
In attack, Liston Colaco started on the left wing and Udanta Singh in his preferred right wing role. Skipper Sunil Chhetri was the lone striker up front.
India struggle to break Sri Lanka down
The first half was devoid of any sort of quality as both teams struggled to stitch together any decent passing moves. India dominated possession as expected but Sri Lanka found it very easy to thwart any attacking play from their side.
Playing in a mid to low block, the Sri Lankans congested the central areas and forced India to play the ball wide. The full-backs, Seriton and Mandar, were allowed to get forward without much pressure.
When they tried to pass it infield or to the winger in front of them, the Sri Lankan press kicked in. This tactic worked wonders against a team with questionable decision-making in the final third like India.
Crossing into the box seemed to be India’s route towards goal but a lack of height and bodies in the box did not help matters. This did not play to the strengths of speedy players like Udanta and dribblers like Liston.
The tempo of the first half was another issue. Sri Lanka’s gameplan was to let India have the ball and try to hit them on the counter-attack whenever possible. They were more than happy to see labored, sideways passing without any sort of incision.
Mohammed Yasir’s introduction at half-time dramatically upped the tempo in the first 10 minutes of the second half. He was willing to carry it forward, keep it ticking and release the wide players from midfield.
But that, too, was short-lived. As the Sri Lankans started wasting time, the frustration got to the Indians, and even Stimac was booked. Despite being young, this is a fairly experienced squad and they shouldn’t really be affected by such shenanigans.
The other substitutions had no impact whatsoever and the omission of Brandon Fernandes left a lot of people scratching their heads. India’s most creative player was left on the bench when the game was crying out for some invention.
In the end, India had a lot of possession, a lot of corners and nothing to show for it. They are third in the standings at the moment with table-toppers Nepal up next. A failure to win, coupled with a Bangladesh victory, could knock the Blue Tigers out of the SAFF Championship 2021.
Stimac knows his job is on the line but after two years in charge, the writing is surely set in stone regarding his immediate future.