Five Talking Points from Indian football team's World Cup Qualifiers loss against Oman
Major highlights from Indian football team's narrow loss against Oman in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers
“Hope is a dangerous thing my friend, it can kill a man,” said Red to his prison-mate in the 1994 thriller Shawshank Redemption. It’s been 25 years since the film released but the relevance of the dialogue only seems to growing bigger. Especially for Indian football fans who continue to wait in hope for their beloved Blue Tigers to produce the magic at the international stage.
Against Oman in the World Cup Qualifiers, India were their new usual – disorganized at the back, blunt going forward, and nearly absent in the midfield. The 1-0 result wasn’t necessarily bad (most fans feared something worse) but to see the Indian football team struggle against a quality Asian opposition brought one back to the same question – where are we really going with this Indian football revolution?
Here are five talking points from India’s dull outing in Oman.
1) Some time to prepare, maybe?
It is easy to blame the coach for the team not performing but national teams are often more work than what a lot of people imagine it to be. It takes tremendous work to get a bunch of men with egos playing for different clubs to gel together. Igor Stimac has been at the helm since June but the lack of preparatory camps amidst a really tough Indian Super League schedule has certainly affected the Indian team’s performances.
In Afghanistan and Oman, India played two different type of footballing nations playing in different conditions. That meant the coaching staff had to come up with two different plans for the Indian team. Against Oman, the usually effective counter-attacking unit of India lacked cohesion. It was clear the front line of Sunil Chhetri, Manvir Singh, Udanta Singh and Farukh Choudhary were all working at different wavelengths. If there was a plan, it was clearly not practiced enough and that could largely be down to the lack of preparation time the national team had prior to the qualifiers. In future, the national team needs to be prioritized more and that means getting them more matches (maybe even against SAFF opponents such as Nepal) and preparation time.
2) Dwaraka, we’ve got a problem!
We highlighted the striker problem in our talking points from the match against Afghanistan. Now is the time to shift our focus to the defence. Yes, India were playing a makeshift defence against Oman with Sandesh Jhingan injured. Yes, Adil Khan and their defensive midfielder Pronay Halder had to be substituted early due to injuries. But the problem is way deeper than a few injuries.
The Blue Tigers don’t have quality defenders who can make the step in. Young Narender Gahlot has not been playing regular football for his club while Sarthak Golui is just starting to cement a place at his club. There is a major problem at Indian football’s centre-back production factory with top division teams preferring to the play foreigners in the role.
The Federation needs to come up with a 10-year-plan to tackle this growing problem at both ends of the pitch for India. The decision-makers sitting in Dwaraka might as well adopt Kerala Blasters coach Eelco Schattorie’s suggestion – make it compulsory to play at least one Indian in the defence.
Would it be an idea to only allow to play with 1 foreign Center back in each ISL team? This to develop Indian defenders because it’s lacking there big time. Why the country has soooo many wingers ? Simple: Hardly any foreigners occupy that position. So you get game time there pic.twitter.com/2SkEmaRkCt— Eelco Schattorie (@ESchattorie) November 20, 2019
3) Troubling signs!
Oman, allegedly, reduced the away ticket sales fearing a takeover by the Indian football fans but for some, unexplained reasons, the Blue Pilgrims didn't turn up. At least, not in the numbers people were expecting, given the large presence of Indian diaspora in the middle-east. To be fair, Tuesdays aren’t ideal for working professionals but considering how many made it to Dushanbe for the match against Afghanistan, the numbers were a little underwhelming.
Despite the ticket prices being higher than #OMAvBAN and there being less tickets available I expected the away section to be full. Not good enough! Where are you India fans? pic.twitter.com/tP0l1awmGo— Joe Morrison (@joefooty) November 19, 2019
There is no clear explanation to why the fans didn’t turn up. But usually it is a sign of the fans not happy with the football the team has been playing. With three goals in ten games and no victory to show in the tournament, Indian team aren’t exactly in great form, and that might slowly be affecting the audience turnout. Let’s hope it was just the traffic or the climate or some weird cosmic influence that prevented the fans from reaching the stadium. At this point of time Indian football can’t afford a fan backlash.
4) Stimac needs to own up
India have been playing some directionless football in the last few months despite a few positive in the early days of the Stimac era. But the Croatian has been too defensive, pulling out unrelated statistics to back his managerial capabilities.
“Sometimes our midfielders were going for unnecessary long balls. But that is a learning process. We are teaching them not to put a straight long ball from midfield. Before I got here India played 25% long balls but now it is 15%. Passing accuracy before me was 67% and now it is 82%. We are making it difficult for the opponents to beat India and time will come soon when India will start winning,” said the coach after the match, as reported by Goal.
There is nothing wrong in his observations. But it is false to claim that the football has improved with these numbers. India continue to be directionless on the field and some might argue, with Sunil Chhetri clearly on the decline, the Blue Tigers are less of an attacking threat than they were a few years ago. The first step towards a positive change will be to accept the mistakes.
5) A new hope
What is a football fan without hope? The next World Cup qualifier will be played only in March which means coach Stimac and his coaching staff will have ample time to prepare the Indian team just the way they want. There is also the possibility that the ongoing season will unearth a few players, especially in the defence. There is also the quest of finding the next Chhetri will also continue and hopefully by March, the Indian football fans will have a larger understanding of what the team’s plans are.
After all, the film that gave us the grim quote on ‘hope’ also gave us another take on the subject. Something which should keep us going in these turbulent times of Indian football.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”