India vs Afghanistan Review: The Afghan Wall denies India the SAFF Championship

Mansur Fagiryar, The Afghan Wall, MVP and the player who denied India the SAFF Championship 2013
India played their heart out today but Afghanistan were better in-front of goal as compared to the Indians who seemed like doing everything right but somehow the ball was not going across the goal-line. A game that was played at a fanatic pace and was full of action at both ends. Despite taking an early lead thanks to Mustafa Azadzoy’s close range effort for which India’s defensive lapse could be blamed as two Afghan players were found in a huge amount of free zone down the right side for which India’s left back Syed Rahim Nabi should be held responsible, India never shifted their attacking attitude and pressed hard for an equalizer. Indian midfield for the first time looked to have a purpose with Mehtab, Lenny and Arata formed a powerful triangle at the centre creating all sorts of problem for the neighbor’s defense which was led by one of India’s fan favorites Haroon Amiri. India did everythinip sssg right but could not find the back of the net to get the much needed equalizer. India’s golden chance came for Jeje in the 35th minute but somehow his shot followed by two consecutive shots by Izumi Arata did not go inside. One man who should be credited for keeping the ball outside the Afghan net was, the MVP of the tournament, “The Afghan Wall” , Goalkeeper Mansur Fagiryar. Throughout the match Mansur was standing like a wall and protected his goal in some style with numerous number of acrobatic efforts to deny the likes of Mehtab Hossain, Lenny Rodrigues, Robin Singh, Izumi Arata and Sunil Chhetri at bay. Whenever India looked destined to score, Mansur pulled up saves, one after the other. One such save was produced when Mansur denied Indian Xabi Alonso, Mehtab Hossain’s verocious pile driver before the first half.

In the second half, India continued to pile up the pressure from the very beginning. Afghanistan however did not panicked and played some fast counter attacks which caught India wrong footed many a times, but some last-ditch defending saved India from going down by two goals. Jeje was not performing as per expectation, and Wim Koevermans finally brought in the Indian poster boy – Sunil Chhetri. Almost immediately after coming in, Sunil had a great opportunity to get India the much needed goal, but despite his quick feet, he could not manage to get proper contact with the ball as the ball harmlessly rolled to Mansur’s safe hands. Just as Indian’s were busy analyzing what went wrong, Afghanistan doubled their lead thanks to a speedy counter-attack with  Sanjar Ahamdi chipping the ball over Indian Spiderman Subrata Pal, who could only get a touch which was unfortunately sufficient to evade an helpless Indian players head and sneaked under the crossbar. Lenny Rodrigues just like Mehtab Hossain tried to go for the kill from long range but his superb long ranger was save by yet another world class save by MansurThe Afghan Wall”. India having a two goal deficit went all out bringing in Dawson Fernandes to replace an unimpressive Nirmal Chhetri, but there was no fairytale comeback for the Blue Tigers as the Neighboring brothers took away the SAFF Championship 2013 title.

Despite the loss, there are many positives from the tournament for the Indian fans from the way they performed in the finals and semi-finals. Yes, agreed that India were the favorites to win the title and one expected much better from the Blue Tigers, but the brand of football which India played in the latter stages of the tournament, one must give credit to the team as these sets of players are not used to play together. If we can replicate or improve our performance, we could have much brighter days in Indian Football.

ABCDFootball’s Player Review in the finals:

India’s top performers:

Indian Xabi Alonso, Mehtab Hossain
was yet again the engine
 of the Indian Midfield
Mehtab Hossain: As we earlier tagged him with the name “Indian Xabi Alonso”, the hard working midfielder who works his heart out in the midfield with tackles, passes and interceptions all over the 90 minute mark, was again a treat to watch. Made a great effort in the first half with a beautiful long-ranger which was saved by Afghan goalie.

Lenny Rodrigues: For the first time in the SAFF Championship, Lenny looked like the player he was picked for creating numerous number of chances for the forwards. Be it short passing or over the top, long balls, Lenny was really a joy to watch as he picked the passes with close to perfection. Lenny also showed his shooting capabilities with a terrific long range effort which was denied by the Afghan goalie.

Lenny Rodrigues was superb today
Francis Fernandes: Playing on the right wing, Francis had a great outing creating several chances for the front line with crosses and passes. Was involved in several link-up play with the attacking department. Really gave his heart-out from the right side and created many chances from dangerous crosses.
Robin Singh, used his physique
and built to full extent

Robin Singh: Though many would find him guilty of missing some close chances but one must appreciate the “rare breed” of Indian forward, for using his physique to full potential. Almost won all the aerial balls and found his striking partner. Excellent shielding and off the ball presence. Needed double marking from Afghans and despite that managed to get one-on-one with Afghan goalie few times but perhahaps his finishing needs improvement.

Izumi Arata, was very good
throughout the tournament
Izumi Arata: With Izumi in the list, we have completed all the four midfielders, and why not? His passing and ball control was top-class. Had several attempts at the goal and almost his double effort grabbed India the equalizer in the first half. Often kept the Afghan defense on toes with his off the ball positioning.

Players who underperformed:
Nirmal Chhetri, at the back was not
up to his best

Nirmal Chhetri: Nirmal Chhetri was often criticized for his long balls from centre of the park during India’s matches in the group stages and the same was seen even today with some aimless long balls. Also, Nirmal needs to work on his passes, especially “backspasses” which almost cost India in the semi-finals and the same was found even in today’s match.

Jeje was not at his best
in the finals
Syed Rahim Nabi: Though he was a charm going forward but Nabi was often found in wrong positions when he was most required by his team. He was very much responsible for the first  goal India conceded.

Jeje Lalpekhlua: Jeje did not have the best of the outings in the final. When he was required to pass, he went for the goal when he needed to pass and vice versa. He was subbed in the second half by Sunil Chhetri.

Wim Koevermans, impressed almost everyone
 with his tactical approach in the last few games
With clouds hovering over Wim Koevermans contract with the All Indian Football Federation as many media sources claimed that Wim’s position is under the scanner and might face axe, we might have a reason to re-think and trust the Dutchman after the recent performances.

Wim Koevermans had many fingers pointed at him for some strange decisions in the starting XI of the Indian Team in the group stages, and might very well question the tactics of not starting with Sunil in the finals, and opting for Jeje and Robin upfront. Also, the over-dependence on 4-4-1-1 rather than 4-4-2 in which India looked a far better team. But we must not forget that it’s the players who play on the field and not the coach and in some cases, it’s the players who are guilty sometimes, not the coach. We could only hope that Wim Koevermans make a much improved Indian squad with players who deserve the national team call-up get a chance to prove themselves.
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About Debraj Banerjee

Hi, I am Debraj Banerjee from Adra, West Bengal. A keen follower of Indian football and always an optimist that the game will get the recognition it truely deserves. What we ask from you is your support and one day the dream might turn true. Fingers crossed for Indian football. Cheers!

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