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Goal's Ayush Srivastava suggests how Wim Koevermans side can overcome Maldives in the SAFF Championship 2013 semi-final

 Ayush Srivastava
 COMMENT | India
Follow on

India have huffed and puffed their way into the semi-final of the SAFF Championship 2013, just about keeping intact their record of making the knock-out stages of every edition of the South Asian competition since its inception.


FIXTURES/RESULTS
Truth be told, the Blue Tigers owe their entry in the last four to some pure, unadulterated bit of luck. In the first game against Pakistan, India found it tough to get anywhere close to the Green Shirts' goal, but a freakish own goal saw them take all three points. A free-kick hotly debated by the Bangladesh faithful saw Sunil Chhetri rescue an undeserved point for Wim Koevermans’ side. And then Pakistan did the needful for their arch-rivals by beating Bangladesh, after India even failed to get the one point they needed against Nepal to assure themselves of a place.

What is clear is that none of these pivotal moments owed anything to Wim Koevermans’ intervention as the coach of the Blue Tigers.

Infact watching India’s games this SAFF Championship have been an exercise in restraint as quite often the team has resembled a bunch of semi-professionals, and it put things into perspective when a foreign journalist noted how at times, Bhutan, the whipping boys of the Championship, passed the ball better than the SAFF defending champions.

On most occasions, most notably against Pakistan and Nepal, the forward line and midfielders seemed as if they were complete strangers, put on the field together for the first time. The ball was often just handed back to the opposition, as either a pass was misplaced, or because one the players failed to read a regulation pass and move attempt by his colleague.

The Dutch style of football was conspicuous by its absence, as quite often the team resorted to just pumping the ball forward, without any regards to whether they had a team-mate up there to hold the ball up.



Often nobody to support Sunil Chhetri

With quite often a frustrated Sunil Chhetri left marooned forward with no assistance, the ball just ended up being given over to the opposition, who kept coming back with wave after wave of attacks. In a way, Robin Singh, who might well be called up to replace the suspended Indian captain upfront, might be the right person to lead the line, with such a hoof-ball approach.

India could be thankful for the fact that Gouramangi Moirangthem has looked a bit of his old self so far, with Arnab Mondal’s physical and reliable presence probably helping him in doing what he always did best, reading the game to clear any immediate danger.

The persistence with N. Mohanraj has become a talking point across forums, as the more experienced and reliable Syed Rahim Nabi has either been sidelined or played on the wings, as seen against Nepal.

What is sure is that the team stands no chance against a free scoring side like Maldives, which also has a water-tight defense, especially without Sunil Chhetri, unless Wim Koevermans pulls a proverbial rabbit out of the hat and finally alters the general set-up in which his team plays in.

The one man up-front experiment is definitely not working. The Indian players have so far not shown the stamina, or the ability to fit into the Dutchman’s preferred system, which is all about astute passing and movement.

Thus, instead of wondering in press conferences why his plans are not carried out by his players, Wim Koevermans needs to alter the set-up of his side, to make the present squad click.



Gotta make the best with what you got

With long balls being the order of the day, reverting back to a two striker set-up would suit India best, with Jeje Lalpekhlua hoping to profit from Robin Singh’s flick-on’s.

Koevermans’ side played their best football when they moved to two upfront against Nepal, before some poor defending and goalkeeping combined to see them concede through a freekick, undoing all the pressure they had started building.

A recall for Francisco Fernandes on the right wing would further boost India’s capability of putting in crosses, while his pace is another added asset.

What may work in India’s favour is the fact that they don’t go into the tie with the tag of the favourites, which resides firmly on the shoulders of Ali Ashfaq and his teammates, who have had a wonderful campaign so far.

Though several observers have written off this lot as India’s worst in recent times, there is definitely some untapped potential in this Indian squad, and with some clever tactical switches and motivational tactics, this team could still spring a surprise.

For Wim Koevermans, the failure to defend the SAFF Championship might well be the final straw, after recent capitulations in friendly games as well as inability to make it to the AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives.

Is the Indian dressing room ready to fight for the future of their coach? All shall be revealed on Monday, when they take on the Red Snappers in the SAFF Championship semi-final at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal.

 

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