Intercontinental Cup 2019: Organizational experimentation dented India's chances against DPR Korea

AIFF Media
Coach Igor Stimac would have now completed the cycle of knowing his best India XI after twin heavy defeats featuring fringe players...

The last time the Indian national team conceded five goals in a game was in 2012, a 5-1 defeat in a friendly against Oman. A year before that, was the last time the Blue Tigers had conceded nine goals in back-to-back games - in the 2011 Asian Cup group stage.

However, this Intercontinental Cup, the 4-2 loss to Tajikistan following the 5-2 defeat to DPR Korea on Saturday night might just have provided more answers than questions for Igor Stimac, who completed his fourth game as India head coach.

Since being appointed as India coach, Stimac had made 28 total changes in his four India starting lineups. Interestingly, DPR Korea had conceded 28 goals in their last seven games before this tie.

It would have been a tad uneasy to digest the scoreline against a side 21 places below India in the FIFA rankings. But the experiment to make nine changes from the previous game and give squad members game time to prove themselves was required as a part of the process for Stimac to identify his best XI.

Sandesh Jhingan India DPR Korea Intercontinental Cup 2019

To shore up the defence, a half-fit Sandesh Jhingan partnered with Subhasish Bose in the centre, a new pair with Pritam Kotal and Jerry Lalrinzuala on the flanks. Despite the fact that all four of them had played with each other in national colours before, fitness issues and a lack of communication left a lot to be desired.

Jhingan, at fault for the second goal, could not even complete the first half with a hamstring issue and had to be replaced by Adil Khan who did not fare much better. Kotal, Bose and Lalrinzuala all had parts to play in letting the opposition score easily.

Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh should have done better for the first goal as he then could not recover from his positional lapse the entire evening. Amarjit Singh, who continued on from the last match gave away the foul that led to the freekick which was converted by Jong Il Gwan, the North Korean skipper who inspired his troops.

Stimac, in order to provide minutes, placed Manvir Singh on the right wing, a role he often plays for his club side FC Goa while coming off from the bench. Jobby Justin, on his full debut hardly got any service but sacrificing him was important as mis-organization saw India down 3-0 at the break.

Udanta Singh, Lallianzuala Chhangte first and then Anirudh Thapa along with Sahal Abdul Samad came in and made an impact though as India looked a bit more threatening. To their credit, India managed to halve the deficit by making it 4-2 with twenty minutes to go.

Jobby Justin Manvir Singh India DPR Korea Intercontinental Cup 2019

There was more wing-play, counter-attacks got swifter and Sunil Chhetri had the liberty to become the farthest man forward to sniff out a goal-scoring opportunity. Even players like Lalrinzuala and Amarjit Singh, who were shoddy in the first half, looked more confidence after the break.

India almost won the second half 2-1 if not for the injury-time goal, DPR Korea's fifth on the night. Structure-wise, Stimac got it right in the second half but he would still have a question to address regarding accommodating both Thapa and Sahal together given neither are defensively inclined.

Right after the game, the Croat coach came out with a strong statement saying he now knows his best players. He also highlighted the fact that some of the players have been brilliant in training but a complete sob-story in games. With Stimac having segregated the best from the rest in his own personal list, it remains to be seen if he would throw his preferred first XI come the final game against Syria.

While reaching the final would require luck of massive proportions, it would be a good time for Stimac to give the Blue Tigers' faithful a glimpse into the future on Tuesday against Syria. Although, if India are mathematically out of the equation by then, the question remains would Stimac experiment one last time before the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers arrive in September?