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Asian Cup 2019: India no 'comeback kings' under Stephen Constantine

9:36 AM IST 13/01/19
Sandesh Jhingan Stephen Constantine India Asian Cup
The Blue Tigers need to be mindful of not conceding first against Bahrain in their crucial final group game at Sharjah...

The Indian national football team are all set for one of their most crucial matches in recent history when they take on Bahrain in their final Group A game of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.

It will be a fast turnaround after a 2-0 loss to hosts UAE - the 11th defeat under Stephen Constantine since he took charge in 2015 - his second spell as India manager.

In this period, India have won 21 of their 38 games but a glaring piece of statistic comes to the fore when accounting the failed attempts to salvage a result by the Blue Tigers.

India have failed to win ten matches when the opposition have scored first, which includes nine defeats and a solitary draw.

In 2015, Constantine's men lost five matches and all of them came in the aforementioned circumstances. India did score consolation goals against Oman at home and away at Guam and Turkmenistan.

What is encouraging is India have also won five games during this period after conceding first. That revolution kick-started in late 2015 itself; twice in the SAFF Championship in Thiruvananthapuram as they went on to beat Nepal 4-1 in the group stage after Bimal Gharti Magar had lifted the Gorkhalis ahead as early as in the third minute itself.

In the final against Afghanistan, Jeje Lalpekhlua equalised two minutes after Zubayr Amiri's opener but it took a Sunil Chhetri goal in the 101st minute of extra time to win the championship.

However, India have also been susceptible to comebacks from the opposition on occasions. After Sandesh Jhingan had helped the Blue Tigers take the lead against Turkmenistan but the Central Asians came from behind with a 2-1 win in Kochi in 2016.

Last year, India lost after taking the lead against New Zealand by a similar scoreline in the 2018 Inter Continental Cup in Mumbai. However, Constantine had rested key members of the team for the final game.

The few times India had successfully staged a comeback were in June 2016 in Guwahati, beating Laos 6-1; September 2016 in Mumbai, beating Puerto Rico 4-1 and August 2017 in Mumbai, a 2-1 win over Mauritius. However, out of all these sides, only Puerto Rico was a team with a much better pedigree - ranked 38 places higher than India at the point in time.

Another point of concern for India will be the early goal they have conceded over the years. Thrice have the Blue Tigers conceded in the opening couple of minutes in the game and have failed to get a result in all three - 1st minute vs Oman in 2015 (2-1 loss), 1st minute vs Myanmar in 2017 (2-2 draw) and 2nd minute vs Kyrgyzstan in 2018 (2-1 loss).

And the latest in this thread of results was the UAE match on Thirsday. As soon as UAE scored through Khalfan Mubarak in the 41st minute, it was advantage to the Emiratis since India rarely script comebacks.

Also, this was only the fourth time and first since March 2016 that India have failed to score in a defeat, the last of such coming against Iran at the Azaadi Stadium in Tehran in a 4-0 thrashing.

The writing on the wall and the gameplan should be simple - to not concede at all as even a point will take India through to the knockouts. The Indian fan could only hope that the defence rises to the task on Monday night in Sharjah, albeit against a team that beat them 5-2 eight years ago in this very competition in 2011 at Qatar.