Fresh faces give India renewed hope for next year

Wim Koevermans experimented with his starting line-up in the two friendly matches with some encouraging results...

GOALBY   AYUSH SRIVASTAVA     Follow @ayush_sri on twitter

While Sunil Chhetri’s record goalscoring feats have received the mega-share of attention after India’s friendly encounters against Philippines and Nepal.

The Indian striker definitely deserves all the plaudits for breaking Bhaichung Bhutia’s record by scoring his 43rd goal against Nepal, in just his 80th game.

However when the larger context of the Blue Tigers is concerned, it is the promise shown by the players called up by Wim Koevermans after the inconsistent showings during the SAFF Championship.

In a welcome change of stance, some of the more consistent performers of the last two seasons in the I-League were given a chance to stake a claim for regular berths in the team.

Karanjit Singh, who did not get a chance to impress in Nepal, showed why he should be given more chances in goal, carrying his consistent club form onto the international arena.

The most major changes were seen in defense, which had been a huge worry for the Indian faithful during the SAFF Championship in Nepal. The likes of the returning Gurujinder Kumar, Denzil Franco and debutant Narayan Das provided solidity in defense. They also offered something positive going forward, being more comfortable in possession than the likes of Nirmal Chettri.

New faces in defense were needed...

Aibor Khongjee too slotted in well at centre-back, helping the team see off the game when they came under pressure against the Azkals and while Gouramangi Moirangthem would continue to be a vital part of the starting eleven once he gets some playing time, the Mohun Bagan defender’s performances prove that there is some quality depth in defense.

In midfield, it was heartening to see Clifford Miranda and Francis Fernandes providing some real width down the flanks. In the past, too much of India’s play has been based out of the centre, leading to unnecessary loss of possession.

Playing with more width allows Indian players more space to move into, while firmly pinning back the opposition’s wing-backs and even creating two-on-one situations, with the overlapping wing-backs.

Probably the biggest change noticed in the game against Nepal was Wim Koevermans’ decision to do away with the double pivot and give Lalrindika Ralte a chance to play through the centre, with Mehtab Hossain in-front of the defense.

The former Indian Arrows playmaker is one of India’s most gifted players in possession, and has the ability to create as well as score special goals. In games in which the Blue Tigers can be expected to dominate the possession, the presence of a player of his quality is invaluable.

And even though the East Bengal player was not particularly impressive, his jittery performance could be put down to the nature of his involvement with the national team, never getting a consistent run of games.

Robin Singh was a formidable presence upfront against the Gorkhalis...

Robin Singh showed how persevering with a player can help the national team, being involved in both the goals the side scored against the Gorkhalis. Having made the switch to the more calmer environments of Bangalore, it is now upto the striker to now rise to the occasion and become a regular partner for Sunil Chhetri, for club and country.

Having also had the chance to have a look at players like Rocus Lamare, C.K Vineeth and debutant Victorino Fernandes, means that Koevermans has a better idea of the squad depth at his disposal, based on which he can build for next year, having seen off a disappointing 2013 with two decent performance, especially in the morale-boosting win against Nepal.

The selection of so many new faces also gives players on the fringes of the squad, a motivation to take their performances in the I-League to a all new level, to force their way into the Dutchman’s scheme of things.

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