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King's Cup: Chastening defeat to Curacao on debut a learning curve for Igor Stimac

5:16 PM IST 05/06/19
Igor Stimac Indian national team
The Croatian will have learned plenty about the Indian squad after their 3-1 defeat to Curacao in the King's Cup opener...

Igor Stimac’s debut as India boss ended in a 3-1 loss to Curacao in the King’s Cup 2019 opener at Buriram, Thailand but there is plenty the Croatian will have learnt about his squad after those 90 minutes.

A disastrous first-half showing cost India dear at Buriram with the Blue Tigers left with too big a mountain to climb in the second period. All eyes were on the approach Stimac would take in his first game in charge of India and the Croatian opted for an adventurous start with Sahal Abdul Samad, Rahul Bheke and Brandon Fernandes being handed their national team debuts.

There were barely any long ball punts played from the defence with India attempting to keep the ball on the ground for the most part. However, a lack of fitness and sharpness compared to their Curacao counterparts was evident as India were made to pay for some poor defensive organisation at the back.

Bheke’s India debut was one to forget for the Bengaluru FC man with his central defensive partnership with Sandesh Jhingan looking shaky throughout the first half. Bheke's positioning and judgement was called into question on all three Curacao goals as Stimac cut a frustrated figure.

The Indians were no match for Curacao when it came to fitness and physicality with several players looking gassed out in the first-half itself.

It was a more encouraging showing from the Blue Tigers in the second period after they conceded three goals in the first-half. The second-half improvement was largely in part due to Curacao taking their foot off the gas but there were still a few positives to take for Stimac and India.

The pressing from the top was encouraging as well the displays of debutants Samad and Amarjit Singh.

The positives and negatives aside, the game will be an eye opener for Stimac with the Croatian finally getting to see clearly the magnitude of the task he has at hand. He will have realised how poor India’s players were in the fitness department and the huge amount of work that is required in that department.

The coach did try to adapt to the way the game was developing, with the team shifting their formation according to situations. Pronay Halder often dropped deep into defence in the first half to allow the full-backs to bomb forward. But the lack of organisation and bite in midfield came back to haunt India. 

Stimac did plug the holes in midfield with the introduction of Amarjit and Raynier Fernandes. But the damage was done in the first half. However, seeing the players react to real match situations first hand will give the Croatian a better indication of where India truly stand.

Stimac will need to be given the benefit of doubt after only his first official game in charge but the Croatian will now know that there is plenty of work to do to bring the squad up to speed. He has attempted to shake things up with as many as five players being their senior debuts on Wednesday and that is the big positive from the 3-1 loss.

Of course, one must not forget the fact that Curacao played with at least two players who have had Premier League experience in Leandro Bacuna and Cuco Martina, not to mention several others with European experience.

It was a tough debut for Stimac but he would no doubt look towards the positives and work on the shortcomings before the next match. Improving the fitness can be a great place to start.