Updated: June 5, 2019 8:50:56 pm
Talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri struck in his milestone match but India lost 1-3 to higher-ranked Curacao in their opening tie of the King’s Cup football tournament in Igor Stimac’s first game under charge here Wednesday.
Chhetri became the most capped India player by surpassing Bhaichung Bhutia’s 107 international matches and he scored the lone goal for his side in the 31st minute from a spot kick for his 69th goal, though it did not make any difference to the result of the match.
Legend 😱@chetrisunil11 starts his 1⃣0⃣8⃣th game for the #BlueTigers 💙🐯 today, a figure that adds another record to his name. 🎇🎉🎊#CUWIND #KingsCup #BackTheBlue #IndianFootball #Sunil108 pic.twitter.com/ElazwCQqyJ
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) 5 June 2019
The 82nd ranked Caribbean island nation, which has two players plying trade in English Premier League and some others in European leagues, scored three in the space of 18 minutes — through Roly Bonevacia (16th), Elson Hooi (18th) and Leandro Bacuna (33rd).
A sloppy first half in which India — ranked 101 — defended and attacked poorly, saw the team trailing 1-3 at the breather. The new defensive set up — with Rahul Bheke coming in as central defender — was looking out of sorts with lack of anticipation and communication.
India played a vastly improved football in the second 45 minutes — which was played mostly under rain — but could not score another goal.
Stimac’s charges made at least four chances in the second half with two coming to the 34-year-old Chhetri whose first attempt hit the upright and the other — another free header — sailing over the bar.
Though high-profile Stimac, a World Cup bronze medallist and former Croatia manager, began his stint as India coach on a losing note, there were positives to be taken from the match against a more technically superior side.
The Croatian gaffer gave international debuts to as many as five players, including to Under-17 World Cup captain Amarjit Singh, and the Indian side played possession football and mostly through ground passes.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) 5 June 2019
Curacao dominated the first half but surprisingly India had more possession with 53 per cent as against 47. The second half was an even contest with India threatening to score several times and they completely dominated the final 15 minutes though another goal eluded them in the end.
Udanta Singh was in his usual good touch with most of the Indian attacks coming from the right flank with his fast runs creating problems from Curacao.
But it was Sahal Abdul Samad who was clearly the best Indian player on the field. He was all over the pitch at the centre of the park, initiating attacking moves, making fine turns to get the better of his opponents and not afraid of holding the ball.
The introduction of Amarjit and Raynier Fernandes in the second half also added impetus to the Indian attack with both having a fine match overall.
“Conceding three goals in the first half against a technically superior team was always going to be difficult to come back. It’s a new team with a lot of new players coming in,” Chhetri said after the match.
“We made mistakes, especially in the first half. We are going to go to the drawing board and see what we did wrong. We hope to recover fast for the third-place match and do better,” he added.
India play the losing team of the match between Thailand and Vietnam in the third-place play-off on Friday.
We were like weather: Stimac on India’s performance
Indian football head coach Igor Stimac Wednesday likened his side’s performance in the 1-3 defeat to Curacao to fickle weather, referring to the vastly different display by his players in the two halves of the King’s Cup match.
Stimac, a World Cup bronze medallist and former Croatia manager, began his stint as India head coach on a losing note, thanks mainly to a sloppy first half in which his charges defended and attacked poorly.
The Caribbean island nation, ranked 19th places higher to India at 82nd, scored thrice in the first half in the space of 18 minutes while captain Sunil Chhetri, who Wednesday became the country’s most capped player, struck the lone goal for his side in the 31st minute.
India played a vastly improved football in the second 45 minutes — which was played mostly under rain — but could not score another goal. They made at least four chances in the second half with two coming to the 34-year-old Chhetri whose first attempt hit the upright and the other — another free header — sailing over the bar.
Stimac later compared India’s performance to the weather conditions at the Thunder Castle Stadium which saw sunshine during the first half but was lashed by heavy rains in the second 45 minutes.
“We were very much like the weather. At one time the sun was shining, while in the second half there was a storm. After we changed few things in the half-time, we started playing better,” he said at the post-match press conference.
“I’m proud of the team especially the manner we played in the 2nd half. I think we had 5-6 good situations in the second half to score our second goal and come back, and put some pressure on them in the last 10 minutes,” he added.
Stimac gave international debuts to six players, including 18-year-old India U-17 World Cup captain Amarjit Singh and Raynier Fernandes. He made mention of Amarjit and Fernandes who came in as second half substitutes for their impressive performance.
“The young players who came on showed great character, and had no fear to come on the pitch and playing football. That’s what I like. We have a good future. We were controlling much better (in second half) — the passion, movements, and especially closing down the midfield. That’s what we did with two young players, both debutants coming off the bench,” he said.
“Fernandes and Amarjit made an impact. Their covering was good. They were coming in front of the big strikers who were creating problems for us. They did not surrender. We did not put our heads down and kept creating chances,” the head coach said.
The experienced coach, who even resorted to a three-man backline briefly after trailing by two goals, said the decision making by his attackers was not good in the final third.
“For example, where we were supposed to shoot the ball, we were passing; and when we were supposed to pass the ball, we were shooting. There is a long way for us to keep learning — the learning process will be long,” he said.
“I had said in pre-match press conference that Curacao were the favourites and they displayed in the first 45 minutes that they are of a different class. They have 6-7 top quality players. The match is a good blessing for our players. They could feel the touch of European Academy players among Curacao players — you can feel in their movements, you can feel in their self-confidence,” Stimac said.
India will play for the third place against either Thailand or Vietnam on June 8.
“We go into another phase now in two weeks’ time, get together and prepare for the Hero Intercontinental Cup. We are missing 5-6 players who are very important part of the national teams set-up. As and when they would be back, we would be better.”
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