Quick off the Blocks: Why India need to start on a positive note in the Challenge Cup qualifiers

As India are about to embark on their quest to qualifying for the AFC Challenge Cup by taking on Chinese Taipei, Goal.com looks at why they need to start off with a bang...
The first half blitz when the Blue Tigers were leading 2-1 against Palestine, a side ranked 14 places above them, sent the Indian football fanatics close to ecstasy, as they finally witnessed the Blue Tigers play a good brand of football. However the ending could not be more anti-climactic, as they went down 4-2, after a hapless second half, undoing all the good work.

Fast forward almost a month and India is about to take on Chinese Taipei, who are just about four places below them on the FIFA rankings chart, in the group stages of the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, a hurdle India needs to cross, since they disappointed yet again on the big stage last time around, as they finished bottom of the group in the last edition of the Challenge Cup.

While bookies and analysts alike have earmarked India for a smooth show in the tournament of minnows, nothing should be taken for granted with this fragile India outfit. Just as they flattered to deceive against an amateur Palestine outfit, devoid of their star names, the case could end on a similar note in Myanmar too.

While Wim Koevermans has been doing some good work with the team, with their increased inclination to keep the ball on the ground, rather than hoof it forward at every opportunity, the results are yet to be showing on the playing field. India have almost nothing to show besides winning the Nehru Cup after beating a 'local lions' Cameroon side, made-up of only their local youngsters. And they did manage to successfully continue their slide down to the FIFA rankings, they are sandwiched between Vanuatu and Mauritania at 167 now, countries most people haven't heard of, let alone know about their footballing prowess.

Geared up for a positive start?

Blaming the coach is meaningless, when the basic technique of the players is at fault. You cannot teach someone to keep possession and pass it around when he has been smashing it high for the past five years! However, with the establishment of the Pailan Arrows side, to specifically give exposure to Indian youngsters and the appointment of FIFA approved coaches to run the youth academies in the country, the future paints a better picture.

Although qualifying for the AFC Challenge Cup should not be much of a worry, as besides Myanmar, India have Guam and Chinese Taipei to contend with and finishing top of the group earns them a spot, the Blue Tigers need to focus on bigger things, including the tournament proper in 2014.

Wim Koevermans' side need to sort out their best eleven, and there is no better way than competitive matches, something which the country is well starved off. With the theoretically vital game against Myanmar being their third fixture of the competition, games against Taipei and Guam should, in all probablity, serve as a pointer regarding team chemistry.

Selecting the right personnel is indeed a big headache for Wim, as he has recently complained about the difficulty of picking players based on I-League displays, due to the players being dropped from the starting lineup for their clubs on a constant basis, even after performing admirably.

Indian strikers have not seen much game-time

With Sunil Chhetri receiving almost no game time during his stint with Sporting CP, and also at the receiving end of a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Hong Kong based Kitchee SC, in Churchill Brothers colours, confidence is not you would associate with the forwards at Wim's disposal.

Both Jeje Lalpekhlua and Robin Singh are bit-part players for their domestic clubs and are not first choice. The only ray of hope can be in the form of young Indian talent, Alwyn George who had a decent showing against Palestine, and has impressed at times with his showing in the I-League this season, with his positional awareness and ability to drift into a myriad attacking roles with ease.

Even the backline reeks of inexperience and inability, as the two centre-backs at India's disposal with 'some' experience are Gouramangi Moirangthem and Raju Gaikwad. While Gouramangi has not replicated his Churchill form with Prayag United, looking shaky at times, Gaikwad has still some ways to go to be considered international class. In fact George's partner at Pailan, Shouvik Ghosh has been a rock at the back for the youth outfit and deserves a look in, especially with Sandesh Jhingan and Arnab Mondal, both of whom who have impressed with their club sides, out injured.

While Subrata Paul has always turned up for his national team, no matter how indifferent his club form might be, the lack of playing time at his club is surely a big headache for the coach, and may lead to Sandip Nandy or Karanjit Singh starting in-between the sticks.

While the midfield is less of an issue, compared to the other areas, India could try Lalkamal Bhowmick alongside Mehtab Hussain, in order to dictate tempo and open up play. The lack of a playmaker has often come back to haunt the side and there, Bhowmick presents a perfect choice as his vision and range of passing is arguably, unparalleled in Indian football.

In addition to getting the right team out, India needs to show its intent in the very first match of the qualifiers itself. They need to send out a strong statement of intent, as they would no longer be pushovers and are ready to step out of the blocks. The 2014 AFC Challenge Cup will be a road too far, if they stumble at the foundation itself...

DO YOU think India will forget the Palestine thrashing and come on their own against Chinese Taipei? What is the Ideal XI you are looking at? Let us know...

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