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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

India vs UAE: Experiments to continue as Igor Stimac looks to make chances count

The UAE are ranked eighth in Asia and 74th overall while India are at 104th. The UAE had won three matches out of the four played between the two sides in the last decade while one ended in a draw.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: March 28, 2021 11:43:45 pm
Igor Stimac during a training session with India national team. (AIFF)

Against Oman last week, Igor Stimac handed debuts to 10 players. On Monday, when India take on the United Arab Emirates in another friendly, the national team coach is set to continue with his experiments with the squad.

From the time he took over, Stimac is yet to settle on his first-choice playing 11. In the previous game, which ended in a 1-1 draw, some debutants struggled while others shone.

Suresh Singh and Jeakson Singh didn’t have memorable starts to their India careers and got subbed off. Chinglensana Singh did some last-ditch defending but his mistake led to an own goal. Defender Ashutosh Mehta was good in patches but made a lot of misplaced passes. And in the absence of an established striker, the team lacked a target man upfront.

Reason for optimism

India couldn’t match Oman’s speed and skill and were lucky not to concede more than one goal by half time. But Stimac will hope his team builds on the decent fight they put up in the second period.

Bipin Singh, fresh from a breakthrough domestic season with Indian Super League champions Mumbai City, carried his good form into the India jersey. He provided some width, held the ball well and dashed forward using his pace, and played a pinpoint cross that landed right on the head of forward Manvir Singh, who scored the equaliser.

That goal was India’s first from open play after 614 minutes – the last one came against North Korea in 2019. It was ironic that the dubious streak was broken when Sunil Chhetri, India’s sole source for goals, is not in the team. Chhetri, who was down with Covid-19, announced on Sunday he
has recovered from the infection.

Manvir enjoyed a decent season with ATK Mohun Bagan, frequently rising to the occasion when called upon. But he got very few opportunities to play as an out-and-out forward as Roy Krishna, one of ISL’s prolific goal-scorers, excelled in that role.

But in the few chances Manvir got, he did not disappoint. He showed glimpses of his potential last week, scoring from the only clear-cut chance India created. That, for Stimac, will be one of the big takeaways.

Pressure on the ball

India have still not reached a level where they can control possession and create multiple chances against opponents ranked higher than them. But they started playing better when they began to press Oman in their own half.

An example of this was debutant Mehta’s effort, which led to India’s goal. India lost the ball on the right flank in Oman’s half, but instead of retreating – like they did in the first period – they choked the opponents for space. Mehta closed down passing options and forced a mistake that led to a turnover in possession which resulted in a goal.

The constant pressing and attacks from the wings have become India’s style since the start of 2019, when – under Stephen Constantine – they surprised many with their abilities during the Asian Cup. Even UAE, their opponents on Monday, looked a bit taken aback by India’s newfound pace-and-pressing style in a group-stage match.

In that game, India had the better chances in the first half but UAE regrouped in the second and eked out a hard-fought win.

Formidable foes

Unlike India, who played after more than 400 days when they took on Oman last Thursday, UAE have managed to get some matches under their belt, playing Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bahrain and Iraq. They lost two, won one and drew one of those matches.

Against India, UAE have been dominant having lost just once since the turn of the century. But Stimac’s side will take heart from the Asian Cup encounter.

India have players who can repeat such a performance, but it’ll be a mighty task to repeat it against the side coached by former Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk. Key UAE midfielders Abdullah al-Naqbi and Caio Canedo have been ruled out of the match because of injuries while goalkeeper Adel al Hosani has been dropped.

But in Ali Mabkhout, who scored one of the goals in the 2-0 win over India in the Asian Cup, UAE have a potent threat upfront. The country’s all-time highest scorer, with 60 international goals, he has netted six times in the ongoing qualifiers and can be a handful against an inexperienced Indian defence, which will be marshalled by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

India vs UAE: Live on Eurosport, 8.30 PM

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