The lack of in-form goalscorers is a big concern for India heading into the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup but the Blue Tigers can take some comfort from their recent defensive displays.
In the run up the continental showpiece in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Stephen Constantine and his men have been playing a host of international friendlies over the last two months or so.
In the three most recent games heading into the competition, India have played three high calibre opponents in China, Jordan and Oman. The lack of goals in the side has been visible in the three matches with Nishu Kumar’s second-half strike against Jordan being the only goal scored by the Indians.
While the offence may be lacking in many more ways than one, the defensive aspect of the side has not been found wanting. In the three clashes, India have managed two shutouts against China and Oman while conceding only two goals.
When taking into account the fact that one of the two goals conceded was a freak one scored by the Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi from his own penalty box, the defensive job looks even more admirable.
Barring that howler from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the back-four and the India custodian have not been found wanting for the most part against high quality opponents.
While Gurpreet and Amrinder Singh have shared goalkeeping duties in the last game against Oman, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose are the two defenders who have started all three games. The rest of the slots have been rotated between Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Salam Ranjan Singh and Narayan Das.
In the clash against China, India were on the backfoot for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes with the defence coming up under massive pressure. While China’s offense might have been guilty of not finishing some gilt-edged chances, to walk away without conceding on their home turf was a massive credit to the Indian defence.
The defence was put on the backfoot from the very start in the loss to Jordan too with the back-four and Gurpreet doing well to concede just one before the half-time interval. They were caught out by a quick counter-attack for Jordan’s second in the subsequent half but put in a much better performance than the first period.
In their final friendly ahead of the start of the Asian Cup, India were up against an Oman side which had won its last three games on the trot but managed to walk away with an impressive clean sheet.
While most of India’s defence might not have had a good time with their club form this season, they have come together nicely at the international level and put in three commendable displays.
In the Asian Cup, India will be up against similar level of opposition to China, Jordan and Oman in Group A alongside hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain. While India’s offence might be on a prayer in the UAE, the back four plus one is looking alright and that could be the team’s strength in the tournament.