India's 2-1 defeat to Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday might have seen their 13-game winning streak come to an end but more alarming was the nature of the defeat.
Yes, the game was a dead-rubber in a sense and Jeje Lalpekhlua's late goal also meant India qualified from the group as toppers. But the Blue Tigers were sluggish for the majority of the game and the victory margin for the Kyrgyz team would have been higher if not for Gurpreet Singh Sadhu's heroics between the sticks.
It was familiar failings at the forefront for India in Bishkek. Stephen Constantine's team have been guilty in the past of starting games slowly and it was the same case on Tuesday.
The defence, especially Narayan Das, went to sleep as early as in the second minute as Anton Zemlyanukhin fired the home team ahead from a cross from the left flank. Lalruatthara also failed to pick up Zemlyanukhin's run into the box. From that point on, India were playing catchup.
The problem here is that India's 'cold start' was not a one-off. This has been the case in most of the games recently but this time, India conceded. The defence was at sixes and sevens for most part while the midfield was just non-existent, apart from a battling Rowllin Borges.
Lalruatthara, at right-back, did not receive much protection from Udanta Singh who did not track back while Narayan Das, who came under heavy pressure, was taken off at half-time.
Mohammed Rafique was not even in the picture as Kyrgyzstan found the going too easy in the first half. They were able to penetrate the Indian box without facing much resistance from the midfield and could well have scored more goals.
It is not to say that India did not have their moments. After Kyrgyz skipper Baymatov used his hands to stop Jeje from going through on goal, India almost equalised. Borges saw his effort from the free-kick clatter back off the post and Balwant, who followed up and tapped it in, was deemed offside.
A quick free-kick from midfield saw Balwant sent clear again around the half-hour mark but the striker's finish was chalked out by the referee, who had asked for the freekick to be taken again.
Constantine's men did push forward a bit after that as they started imposing their physicality on the Kyrgyz players. But there was no cognitive plan in attack. What India were trying to do was to get the ball forward to the two strikers, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh, and hope something materialises.
There was no scheming of attacks from India, with the midfield virtually invisible. There was no creativity from the centre of the park while the deliveries from the wings were not forthcoming.
Kyrgyz players dealt with that tactic with ease and once they scored the second goal, which came courtesy of lackadaisical defending, the game was as good as done.
Anirudh Thapa, after coming on in the second half, injected some purpose and energy in the midfield and India's consolation stemmed from the enterprising youngster. He fed the ball to Halicharan Narzary on the left wing, who crossed for Jeje to head the ball in.
Yes, we can argue that Constantine did not have two of his star men in Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh. With Chhetri in the team, India are a slightly different animal in attack but these players won't be there everytime and India need to find a way to play well in their absence.
Addressing the team's woes in midfield would be a good place to start.