King's Cup 2019: How did Igor Stimac's India debutants fare?

Amarjit Kiyam India Thailand King's Cup 2019
Half a dozen players made their senior national debuts in Igor Stimac's first match as head coach of the Indian team...
For a little while in the 2019 King's Cup third-place playoff game, the eleven men on the field for India had a combined 101 senior caps, one more than Thailand striker Teerasil Dangda who was playing in his hundredth game.

New head coach Igor Stimac promised to give every member of the squad a chance in the tournament and so he did. He gave six out of the seven uncapped players in his 23-man squad their debuts in the first game against Curacao itself.

Three of them - Rahul Bheke, Sahal Abdul Samad and Brandon Fernandes started the game while the other three - Raynier Fernandes, Amarjit Singh and Michael Soosairaj came on later.

The only uncapped member to not game time in the tournament was Kamaljit Singh, the third-choice goalkeeper. After the 3-1 loss to Curacao, Stimac made eight changes to the side that faced Thailand. Only Bheke retained his place in the XI with Raynier, Amarjit and Sahal getting a chance to impress too.

Here, Goal looks at the six players who made their national team debut under Stimac in the King's Cup.


Rahul Bheke India Igor Stimac

After a long time, Rahul Bheke was finally called up to the national team by Igor Stimac. Against Curacao, the Bengaluru FC man was commissioned to fill the hole left by the international retirement of Anas Edathodika in central defence. However, it was not the best of starts for Bheke.

He was involved in all the three goals India conceded. Bheke was found out by Curacao as Roly Bonevacia had a field day playing tricks on the makeshift centre-back. There was little communication between Bheke and Sandesh Jhingan, leading to the first goal as both failed to mark the scorer inside the box.

Bheke's tendency to make runs towards the centre circle and leaving huge gaps open cost India further two goals. In both cases, Bheke wandered out of position and tried to take on striker Jafar Arias unsuccessfully as Elson Hooi and Leandro Bacuna took advantage of the absent man in defence.

He also got himself in the books for a silly foul but with options limited in defence, Stimac started him again. This time, there should not have been any excuses as he was playing in his usual right-back position.

Yet again, Bheke was caught out multiple times by the Thai wingers and fullbacks in his quest to venture forward, foregoing his defensive duties. Theerathon Bunmathan, Teerasil Dangda and Supachok Sarachat bombarded from the left side to keep the India backline busy. If not for some solid work by Jhingan, Adil Khan and Subhasish Bose, Bheke's mistakes could have led to India shipping in goals aplenty.

He has struggled with his positioning and needs to work harder against stronger teams. Probably, Pritam Kotal's absence was felt against Thailand.


Sahal Abdul Samad Curacao India King

The Kerala Blasters midfielder showed promise from the very outset as he remained India's best creative outlet against Curacao. Inside eight minutes, he had run past a defender while bringing down a long ball and flashed a cross only to have no support in the box.

He won the penalty at the half hour mark that Chhetri converted after Jurich Carolina attempted an aerial high-boot on the 22-year-old.

Sahal looked the only bright spot throughout the second half but his limitations in tracking back on opposition counter attacks was evident. He only played for fifteen minutes against Thailand but this time had an indifferent game.

Pushed into saving the lead, Sahal had a brainfade moment in defending a corner-kick, letting the ball through without moving a muscle. Luckily, his club and country captain Jhingan cleared the danger.


Brandon Fernandes India Curacao

A surprise starter against Curacao, Brandon was deployed in an unusual number eight role. For his club side, Brandon generally plays on the left wing after being a playmaker for most of his career.

Apart from one good lobbed ball towards Samad as early as in the eighth minute, the FC Goa man had minimal contribution. His gave away a lot of silly fouls. Off the ball, his movement was found wanting and often left his partner Pronay Halder isolated in midfield.

Stimac moved him to the left wing in the second half and the 24-year-old looked much more comfortable. He did make a couple of runs but was unsucessful in impressing the coach further as he was taken off with more than twenty minutes to go and did not get a second chance against Thailand.


Raynier Fernandes Curacao India King

Raynier made a stronger case for himself in the two games. Brought in after the change of ends, he helped India gain much more composure in midfield. He took a long-range shot and also combined well with Udanta on the right side of midfield.

He had some nervy moments but proved to be a much better option than Brandon, giving Sahal the liberty to go forward more. Having impressed the coach, he made his first start against Thailand on the right side of a midfield diamond.

The Mumbai City man made up for a mispass that almost saw Amrinder Singh troubled in goal in the 69th minute. He pressed the Thai left-back, forcing him to play a backpass to his 'keeper in a comedy of errors. Raynier did do enough to impress his manager.


Amarjit Kiyam Curacao India King

Amarjit became the first player born in the 2000s to don the national colours at the senior level. He was brought on alongside Raynier after half-time against Curacao and the duo combined well to provide the extra security to the backline.

The 18-year-old did have his moments in attack as well. He laid down a pass to Raynier that flew above the bar and also found himself in advantageous positions a couple of time.

As the defensive screen in midfield, the Jamshedpur FC player overcame initial struggles but that did not stop the youngster from taking on the likes of Gevaro Nepomuceno who kept asking question down the wings. He was tenacious throughout and had good energy in midfield.

Amarjit was then rewarded with a start against Thailand, this time on the left of the midfield diamond. He also showcased his creative abilities in trying to sniff out a through ball for Farukh Choudhary a couple of times. He lasted the entire ninety minutes and India did not concede a single goal during the time Amarjit was on the field.


Michael Soosairaj India camp

The Tamil Nadu-born got a little over twenty minutes with India losing 3-1 against Curacao. Firstly, he could not follow up on the loose ball after Chhetri had hit the post. Then, in injury time, he had a golden opportunity after being fed by Chhetri but his touches on the ball failed him inside the box and India were never able to pull another goal late on.

He remained as an unused substitute against Thailand. A lot is expected from him, given his talent.