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AFC Asian Cup

AFC Asian Cup 2019: India lack a number nine

10:54 AM MYT 14/01/2019
India vs UAE Sunil Chhetri
While India have highly skilled players who operate in front of defences, they lack a true number nine up front...

The stage is set for India to script history and whatever the final result against Bahrain may be, the Blue Tigers have drafted an impressive account of themselves at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup

Stephen Constantine's journey has been unabated and his team has responded at the right time. After two good performances in Group A, India have earned right to be reasonably confident of posing a threat to Bahrain going into the final group game. However, the threat posed by India is likely to come from pacey wingers or nimble-footed forwards. 

India's performances and style of play have been impressive in their first two games and it could well be a sign of things to come as other nations start to take note of India on the football map. 

Overall, Stephen Constantine has managed to outfox his reputed counterparts but one factor that India are lacking is the presence of a true centre forward - a number nine who is an intimidating presence inside the opposition's box and can make runs in behind the defence when the opportunity presents itself. 

None of India's current set of striking options - Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh and Sumeet Passi - can be tagged as a true number nine. Even Ashique Kuruniyan who has started the last two games as a striker does not possess the aerial presence to keep defenders on their toes. 

India hit four goals against Thailand and while there is no doubting the quality of any of the goals, the first goal was from a spot-kick, the second and third were off quick transitions and the last one was a toe-poke, a good one at that of course. 

While there are no specific rules on how to go about scoring goals, the missed chances in the second match against UAE showed us that India lack a number nine. It is a fact that strikers with their aerial presence and off-the-ball movement can trouble even the strongest defences in the world. And the Asian region is no exception to that. Having such a strong presence up front also helps the team when they don't have the ball. He can be a defensive presence during set pieces. 

The number nine need not be heavily built but he needs to be keeping the defenders busy, waiting on the shoulder of the last defender and also ready to put in a tackle or two when required. The current bunch in the squad are technically adept players who likes to play in front of the defence. Add someone who can also do the 'dirty work' and the danger posed is doubled. The number nine has to flick or lay the ball for the technically adept strikers who are good on the ball. When their plan is foiled either due to bad luck or poor finishing, they do not have any back-up plan of throwing a tall centre-forward who can make the difference.

India have shown a new side of their style of play and the need for a true number nine will only increase as the Blue Tigers start to dominate games and play pro-active football on their journey up the Asian football ladder.