India got their first victory of the SAFF Championship 2021 against Nepal today in Male. It was a do-or-die match of sorts for India, as a defeat would have seen the Blue Tigers being eliminated from the group stages of the SAFF Championship for the first time in history.
The match started with India having the lion's share of the ball, and Nepal happy to sit back and defend. India failed to create any decent chances in the first half, barring one incident when Pritam Kotal's cross nearly found Sunil Chhetri, who could not turn the ball into the open net in front of him. The scoreboard at halftime read 0-0.
The second half started on the same note as the first half, and India kept going forward, searching for the elusive goal.
Both teams made a few changes in the second half. Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri and Subhashish Bose were guilty of missing some sitters, which could have given India the lead.
Sunil Chhetri redeemed himself in the 82nd minute when he volleyed the ball into the goal from a Farukh Choudhury headed pass.
The match ended 1-0 in India's favor, and with this victory, India moved into third spot on the points table.
On that note, let us take a look at four things we learned from today's game.
#4 Manvir Singh's unimpressive run continues
Manvir Singh has been one of the better Indian performers in the Indian Super League for the past few seasons. As a result, many people have high hopes for him, and many believe he is the one to carry forward the burden of the Indian strike force once Sunil Chhetri hangs up his boots.
However, Manvir has had a poor run of form in the past few games for the national team. He didn't have the best of games in India's two friendlies against Nepal and has been poor in the SAFF Championship.
The ATKMB forward was guilty of missing probably the best chance of the game when his header from 3 yards out was fisted away by Kiran Limbu.
Not just missing chances, but his overall link-up and involvement in the game has been poor as well. With Farukh Choudhary and Rahim Ali in the reckoning, Manvir has to pull up his socks or risk losing his spot in the playing eleven.
#3 Lacklustre finishing continues to haunt India
It started in the first game against Bangladesh when India failed to defeat a ten-man Bangladesh due to poor finishing. It continued in the second game against the 205th ranked nation, Sri Lanka, where India had to be content with a draw due to some bad finishing. Today it looked like history would repeat itself. It did too, but Sunil Chhetri managed to convert one chance in the game's dying embers to secure victory for India.
India needs to improve its finishing, or else qualifying for the finals or winning the tournament would be an arduous task.
#2 Nepal show good resilience and defensive shape
Nepal's game plan today was clear from the first few minutes of the game. The Himalayan nation sat back and defended for most of the game. It looked like they were happy doing that and had planned to do the same.
In his pre-match press conference, Nepal's coach Abdullah Al Mutairi mentioned that India had a 95 per cent chance of winning the game. However, the way Nepal played today, it was evident that they didn't want to give India much space going forward.
Nepal's center backs Ananta Tamang and Rohit Chand had a good game and kept the defensive shape for most of the game. Kiran Limbu, the goalkeeper, made some fine saves to deny India the lead early into the second half.
Nepal has also been good going forward during the counterattacks, and it is this aspect that has helped them a lot in this tournament.
#1 Igor Stimac and India need to work on tactics against teams who sit back and defend
India plays good football against a team that plays open games and gives the opposition space to exploit. But while facing lower-ranked teams, especially from the South Asian region, India plays against teams who sit back and defend, and this creates a problem for Igor Stimac's team.
Midfielders, in particular, look out of ideas while trying to break open the defense, and the strikers fail to utilize the few chances that come their way. There is an evident lack of cohesion between the midfielders and strikers in such situations, which India needs to sort out. India should win the game by a handsome margin in games like these if they are to be indeed called the regional giants.