India 1-0 Kyrgyzstan Talking Points: India is still Team Sunil Chhetri & more

Last Updated
AIFF Media

In the end, Tuesday night turned out to be one to remember for the maddeningly vociferous crowd at the Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru which turned up to cheer India against Kyrgyzstan as they continued their quest to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. 

Despite being dominated by the visitors for large parts of the game, the Blue Tigers showed plenty of resolve to ride their skipper's inspirational effort to triumph 1-0 on the night and take a huge leap towards making the Asian dream a reality. 

REPORT: India 1-0 Kyrgyzstan

Yes, in the end it was an uplifting victory against a strong side but one could argue that Kyrgyzstan were wasteful with their finishing a bit. India got what they wanted from the tie but there still areas where Constantine's men can improve. Let's take a look at the five talking points from tonight's exhilarating encounter. 

1. An improved India is still Team Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri India Kyrgyzstan Asian Cup Qualifier 2017

Team India is currently at the 100th spot in the FIFA rankings and are likely to climb when the next update comes. But they were languishing far below not so long ago and Sunil Chhetri often carried out lone rescue acts as the Blue Tigers steadily inched upwards. But the first two Asian Cup qualifiers have shown that without their Captain Marvel, India are not as formidable a team as their rankings suggest. 

It was most evident tonight when Kyrgyzstan were dominating India in midfield in the early part of the first half. Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rowllin Borges struggled to launch attacks and long balls from defence were easily dealt with by the tall opposition defenders. But it was Chhetri, deployed just behind Jeje, who wrested some of that initiative back for India by scrapping for second balls and spraying the balls accurately out wide for the likes of Jackichand Singh and Halicharan Narzary. 

Chhetri revels in one of the best games he's played in

In short, he was controlling, creating and breaking up play all on his own. Then the goal in the second half. It was trademark Chhetri - he won the ball in his own half, dribbled past a couple of midfielders and released Jeje Lalpekhlua, made a lung-bursting run forward and had the composure to find the bottom corner on the half-volley! Truly, what can't the man do? 

Safe to say that India would have been toothless without Chhetri in their ranks. He's 32 now but his legend shows no signs of waning. 

2. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu shows his European credentials

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu Indian National Team training session

India have a band of dependable goalkeepers to pick from currently, with the likes of Debjit Majumder, Amrinder Singh and Albino Gomes putting in fantastic performances in the domestic leagues. But Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who plies his trade with Norwegian outfit Stabaek FC, is several cuts above the rest and underlined his pedigree with a stunning performance under the bar on Tuesday night. 

His first moment of the game came in the 14th minute when he got down quickly to keep out Kyrgyz skipper Mirlan Murzaev's stinging low shot from just outside the area. That was a world class save and to follow it up, he was commanding in the area and dealt with most of the Kyrgyzstan set pieces and provided an calming presence behind the defence. 

He would go on to make several vital interceptions, including a huge save in the final minute of injury time to keep out Vitaly Lux's superb volley which would have levelled the scores on the night. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has definitely benefitted from his European stint and it is helping Indian football prosper. 

3. Anas was inpirational but Jhingan not so much

Kyaw Koko Anas Edathodika Myanmar India Asian Cup Qualification 2017

India might have kept a cleansheet against Kyrgyzstan in the end but it was not so straightforward. Yes, Gurpreet had to make several vital saves in the end but India's defensive organisation at the beginning was very good. The Kyrgyz forwards were often frustrated into taking shots from outside the area, none more so than the captain Mirlan Murzaev.

The central defensive pairing of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika were sturdy enough to keep the Kyrgyz threat at bay and even on occasions that the White Falcons managed to penetrate the penalty box, Anas and Jhingan were flying in with last ditch tackles. The former was especially impressive, keeping Vitaly Lux on a tight leash and even pulled off a stunning goalline save after Gurpreet was caught out, much to the frustration of the opposition. 

Considering that the I-League defender of the year was playing despite hearing news of his father falling ill back home, it was an inspirational performance at the back for the country. His partner, Sandesh Jhingan, also did his defensive duties well enough but was often guilty of giving away the ball in an attempt to build play from the back. Those errors meant India could not often find a release after breaking down an attack and invited more pressure on themselves. 

His passing certainly needs to improve by leaps and bounds if India harbour hopes of moving away from the 'punt the ball up' strategy. Anas-Jhingan is a partnership that holds much promise but could do with slight improvements. 

4. India's midfield needs to step up

Stephen Constantine India Puerto Rico International Friendly

India might have managed a morale-boosting win on the night but one of the vital issues that Constantine needs to address is the midfield. The combo of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rowllin Borges appeared to be a good fit with each other, one a deep lying midfielder who excels in intercepting opposition attacks and the other a silky playmaker who can assume the creative mantle.

But the truth is that Eugeneson went missing when India needed him to take control of the game in the first half. Even Borges, who did put in a good shift defensively by pressing constantly and winning balls, could not offer the forwards and wingers the kind of service they would have expected. More or less, it was left to Sunil Chhetri to drop back, control the game and spray out passes. 

Even India's strategy from the back appeared to bypass the midfield completely. On occassions when the wide players forayed down the wings, there was no additional runner from midfield to present an alternate option for the Kyrgyz defenders to contend with. Yes, Borges did make several runs forward but it was not enough while Eugeneson was invisible at times. 

Constantine needs to find a solution for the midfield conundrum and makeshift answers like throwing Mohammad Rafique, a winger by trade, in place of Borges, who had some discomfort due to the injury he suffered earlier, shows the dearth of options in the centre of the park.  

5. Overconfident Kyrgyzstan pays the price

In the lead up to this game, Kyrgyzstan coach Aleksandr Krestinin seemed extremely confident about getting a victory despite his side languishing at 132nd place in the FIFA rankings, as opposed to India who are at the 100th spot. Perhaps his confidence was based on the fact that when the draw for the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers was made in January, they were 124th in the world while India were five spots below them and he felt India were an inferior team. 

Kyrgyz coach laments poor finishing

He said before the game, "We will aim for victory tomorrow. We haven’t played many games to prepare. Our players play in Europe and in Kyrgyzstan, all players in good conditions. We don’t need to make some big preparation for this game." 

But the fact was that for all their domination, his players who have European experience were not able to display the level of finishing which that was expected. Kyrgyzstan had at least three good chances to score but failed to hit the back of the net. Perhaps, he should have anticipated that and prepared a bit more for this game, seeing that Kyrgyzstan managed to score only two goals from their previous five fixtures. 

But hey, India are not complaining!