The dry run to Sunday’s final of the Nehru Cup ended with the Local Lions winning the psychological battle 1-0.
There were though, plenty of positives for Wim Koevermans to take from the match, especially how India gradually settled into the tie after going behind early, and overall having a promising game, though the fact that the team failed to take any of the chances that came their way, will be a fact that will worry the Dutchman quite a bit.
Of course with Sunil Chhetri returning for the final, India will go some way in rectifying that issue. However with Jeje Lalpekhlua left out of the squad, the Blue Tigers do need one of their other attacking players to chip in with goals.
At the back though, Koevermans has no so such worries, with Gouramangi Moirangthem having had a steady tournament, and Raju Gaikwad alongside him having improved with every passing game. Gurwinder Singh too had a strong outing against Cameroon, after looking extremely shaky at the beginning. Having been taken off injured against the Lions, it’s highly unlikely he shall keep his place for the final though, as Koevermans seems to prefer Gaikwad.
Pointing His Wards In The Right Direction...
Denzil Franco though, will be far more optimistic of holding on to his place at right wing-back. Though Nirmal Chettri offers far more as a defender, the Goan adds more width to the side in attack, as was evident in the loss against the African side, when his accurate crosses into the box and good link-up play with Sanju Pradhan, seemed like the best chance for India to get an equalizer.
Pradhan himself will be hopeful of having done enough to re-claim his place in the line-up, ahead of Anthony Pereira. The East Bengal player is intelligent in his movement, a quality that Koevermans values highly.
Infact it is in the attacking areas that the Indian coach has plenty to ponder over. Clifford Miranda has gone off the boil after a promising start. Probably the Dutchman could toy with the idea of moving Pradhan to the left wing and finally stationing Francis Fernandes, who has been played “in the hole” behind the striker for most of the tournament, in his preferred right wing, where he possibly had his best outing in the second half against Maldives.
India’s best attacking display so far was against the Red Snappers, when once Robin Singh came on to add his physicality upfront, Sunil Chhetri moved into the slot previously occupied by Fernandes, and against a physically tough Cameroon side, starting with such a set-up would not exactly be a bad idea.
Also India’s best opportunities against the Local Lions came when crosses were swung into the box, with Manandeep Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi and Francis Fernandes, all wasting headed opportunities. However it is a chink in the Africans armour, that Chhetri and Robin Singh, both good headers of the ball, would exploit better, especially with Nabi and Franco, alongwith Francis Fernandes and Sanju Pradhan or Clifford Miranda, depending on whom Koevermans elects to start, capable of providing a good supply line into the box.
Koevermans Needs To Find The Right Balance In The Team...
With two foraging wingers, it would not be surprising if the Dutchman reverted to his usual tough tackling duo of Lenny Rodrigues and Mehtab Hussain. It would be slightly harsh on Jewel Raja, whose mobility and urge to get into the box add another dimension to India’s attacks, but the deep-lying pair of Lenny and Mehtab provide better cover on the counter-attack, while the Goan’s passing abilities helping instigate attack from deep positions for the Blue Tigers.
Mehtab has also taken the opportunity to establish himself in the Indian set-up with both hands, as his tenacious tackling and pressing tactics help ease the pressure on the defense, while also helping India set-up counter attacking opportunities.
On the whole there are several aspects that Koevermans has to think over, before he names his starting XI for the final against Cameroon, but what cannot be denied is, that regardless of the result, the tournament has definitely helped India turn a page, as they have finally aligned themselves to modern tactics employed across the world. Also the Indian players have shown, that given the opportunity, they can play the game without resorting to hoofing the ball upfront needlessly.
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