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Intercontinental Cup 2019: Inexperienced defence let India down against Tajikistan

04:46 GMT+3 08/07/2019
India Tajikistan
The new-look Indian defence crumbled under pressure in the second half...

India's 2019 Intercontinental Cup opener against Tajikistan did not go according to plan as Igor Stimac's men lost 2-4.

Despite taking a 2-0 lead and going into the break as the better team on the field, the Blue Tigers lost their plot and let in four goals in the second half. An inexperienced back four must shoulder the blame for the capitulation. 

Stimac's options at the back were limited prior to the game and the lineup he chose cannot be faulted. First-choice centre-back Sandesh Jhingan was forced to sit out due to a niggle. Anas Edathodika, who came out of international retirement to play under Stimac, and midfield workhorse Pronay Halder were both ruled out due to fitness issues. 

As a result, India went in with a new-look back four that struggled throughout the game. Narender Gahlot had a debut to forget as the centre-back committed a multitude of errors that had an impact on the game. The youngster was either out of position or should have done better for all four goals scored by Tajikistan.

Goal 1: 46' Narender caught off guard by a through-ball, fails to intercept. Mandar doesn't track the inward run from the flank. 

Goal 2: 58' Mandar fails to clear a long ball to the left, his defensive header falls to an opponent who crosses. Narender fails to clear the cross at the near post, Adil fails to prevent a tap-in. 

But one should one also remember that it was his debut game in national colours and these experiences will only help him get better.

His centre-back partner Adil Khan fared slightly better overall but was outfoxed more than a couple of times in the second half and has to share the blame for two of the four goals. Full-backs Rahul Bheke and debutant Mandar Rao Dessai also struggled on both the flanks.

Goal 3: 71' Opponent beats Adil to an aerial ball, lays it off to his partner who beats Narender to the ball and slots past Gurpreet. 

Goal 4: 75' Adil fails to track the striker's run in behind and the latter ghosts into the box and scores. 

From what we have seen of Bheke so far, the Bengaluru FC man has found the going tough in national colours. He was singled out as the weak link and the right back was found struggling when Tajikistan were raiding through their left flank.

Mandar should have done better for a couple of goals and it looked like there was a lack of communication with Narender who was the centre-back covering his side. In goal, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was not at his best and did not look assured behind the new-look defence. 

The challenge for the Croatian head coach is to ready an alternate solution at the back before the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Pairing Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika is not a long-term solution, which means the new players have to step up and improve their game.

And improve they must because a lot of the good work that Stimac has done with respect to India's playing style flew under the radar, thanks to the defensive capitulation. There were spells were India's passing was exemplary as they kept the ball with short, crisp passes and made inroads in the Tajikistan defence.

The signs are looking really positive under Stimac but the defensive issues need to be addressed.