Igor Stimac had stressed time and again that the King's Cup in Thailand was always going to be an exercise in getting to know his players better. Results were put to the backburner for the timebeing while the coach focused on getting the players accustomed to his ideas and methods.
He was looking to make India a lot more comfortable on the ball and get them to play out from the back more often. All that were visible in his first match against Curacao despite falling to a 3-1 defeat.
However, against Thailand, India managed to eke out a 1-0 win to get the third place in the King's Cup and hand Stimac his first win as India coach. But there is not much to be read into the result, despite the magnitude of it.
The coach had heavily rotated his first XI from the first game, making as many as eight changes. The three survivors from the Curacao game - Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke and Subhasish Bose - kept their place largely due to the fact that India did not have options in defence.
Stimac's intention was to give all the players in his squad a chance to show what they can do. The fact that this second string team managed to trump Thailand highlights several small, but certainly not insignificant, points.
The most pertinent among them is that India's 4-1 win over the War Elephants in the Asian Cup 2019 was no fluke. The Blue Tigers have definitely grown in stature, especially on the continent, and are no longer pushovers. The current team have kept up the good work done by the previous regime.
Also, India have looked far more comfortable on the ball that what has been the case over the years. One of Stimac's promises is to get the team comfortable on the ball and the efforts to do that was visible.
"I was very glad to see that our supporters in India liked the fact that our team was trying to play with lots of passing and dominating a team like Curacao who are 20 places ahead of us in FIFA ranking. That is our intention. I insist on such a style," Stimac said after the Curacao game.
Yes, India has a long way to go before being categorised as a ball-playing team but there are encouraging signs. For starters, the midfield has to hold on to the ball and find free players when they receive a pass from defence under pressure. These are areas that need improvements.
The defending as a whole left a lot to be desired as well against Thailand despite the cleansheet. Yes, centrally India looked a lot more secure due to the fact that Stimac played a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. Raynier Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai and Amarjit Singh were full of industry and running and closed down the spaces.
But that meant Thailand found a lot of joy down the wings, especially the wing guarded by Rahul Bheke who had another poor game. He struggled to offer much going forward and was suspect defensively. It was left to the likes of Adil Khan and Jhingan to put in last ditch blocks and interceptions to keep Amrinder Singh's cleansheet intact.
India's forward line also struggled. Farukh Chowdhury and Balwant Singh struggled to get into the game and link up with the midfield, often losing possesison easily. When they did get chances, a lack of composure saw them go begging.
But a defensive error from Thailand handed India the match-winner early in the first half. A loose ball from a set-piece situation fell perfectly for Adil Khan to slide a ball across the box. Anirudh Thapa, lurking at the far post, was not picked up at all by Thai left-back Adisorn Promrak and the Chennaiyin midfielder tapped in.
Though one should not be reading much into this result, the fact remains that India have beaten a good Asian team on their own soil without its best players. And that shows the early signs are positive for Igor Stimac.
The need of the hour is to keep building on this.