World Cup Qualifiers: India hammered by Iran despite a fighting display

Iran beat India 3-0
Iran thrashes India by 3-0 scoreline in the World Cup Qualifiers,
Picture Courtesy:
Russia 2018 World Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification, Group D
Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru
India 0-3 Iran
Iran: Sardar Azmoun(29th), Andranik Teymourian(47th), M. Taromi(51st)

Team India fought, and fought really hard, especially the defensive unit gave everything they had but still it was not good enough as the best ranked Asian side, Iran scored three goals against the Blue Tigers to emerge deserved winners in the Russia 2018 World Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification, Group D clash played at Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru on Tuesday, 8th September 2015.

Lets have a look at some of the key aspects(strictly personal opinion) which we figured out from the game:

Central Defense was rock solid but problems in wide areas

While the Blue Tigers had some individual performances to show for their effort, as a team it failed to put anything upfront. Barring one time, the Iran goalkeeper was a mere spectator for most part of the match. The positive thing for team India was their central defensive pair of the ever-so-improving Sandesh Jhingan and Arnab Mondal. The former in particular put in a stellar show putting his body on the line on numerous occasion. The concern for Stephen Constantine should be the wide defenders who left to much space for the Iranian attackers and midfielders to work their way through the goal. Second goal in particular was a perfect example for the statement.

Apart from that, it was quite a scene when the Blue Tigers were sliding recklessly on the floor to tackle their opponents, which however looked good when they were successful, but at times it made way for dangerous attacks. With the pace the Iran team had, India may consider lucky that the over-commitment at times did not proved too costly at the end of the day.

Clueless Midfield and Forward line

The fact that team India had a 4-3-3 formation when the game kicked-off, would have meant that they would go against the mighty Iran in an attacking frame of mind rather than trying to keep the ball. Yes, they were taken by surprise with Constantine's tactics but frankly, neither India attacked nor they kept the ball as Iran dominated the possession stats by quite a margin and as for the attack, hardly there were any chances for the Indian forwards. The midfield despite showing great work-rate chased shadows throughout the game, much in line with the expectation prior to the kick-off. Taking out the quality of the visiting Iran team from the picture, the midfield still looked substandard and disorganized. Either there was too much time taken on the ball or a unwanted clearance under no pressure, both lead to gifting possession in dangerous territory. The problem was evident when India got (the rare) possession, sometimes in acres of space players were passing it straight to the Iran players or a hopeful "Bob Houghton esque" long ball, which was dealt by the Iran defense quite easily.

Lack of Composure and Temperament proved vital

Despite a heroic effort from the defenders, it was often the case that Indian players were chasing shadows without any possession. Except for few rare moments, the players were guilty of giving away possession cheaply with a wasteful pass or an unnecessary clearance.

Two of the major aspects of a midfielder are vision and decision making, both of them requires a cool head. As the Iran team piled up the pressure on the Indian players whenever they lost possession, Indian players seemed to panic which you don't expect at this level of the game.

Much of that should be credited to the lack of composure and temperament which comes from experience. Unless you play the same set of players game after game, you won't get the result and lack of friendlies are directly linked to this. Playing such a high profile opponent after having good amount of preparation time, team India could have done more with friendlies apart from just one against Nepal.

Some erratic moments

Robin Singh delivering few looping balls to the box in dead-ball situations

With the physique he has got, one expects him to be in the box putting the finishing touches to such dead-ball situations as a receiver and definitely not as a provider. Apart from Sunil Chhetri, one cannot expect other Indian players to rise above tall Iran centre-halves.

Some poor referring decisions

The first and second goal had few question marks with the referring decisions going possibly against the Indian team.

The first goal was scored from a free-kick which was headed into the goal past Gurpreet Singh. The actual free-kick was awarded after the referee awarded the foul in favor of Iran when there hardly seemed to be any contact between Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Haji Safi.

The second goal came from a ball which was kept into play by Taremi as Teymoruian slotted the ball home. Though TV replay was inconclusive but it seemed as if the ball had already gone out of play.

Also, there were few occasions where players went down to the ground to easily, with minimal contact as the game had too many pauses.

Ball-watching and Not Playing for the Whistle

Surely Stephen Constantine would have had some strong words in reserve for few of the Indian players for simply "ball-watching" and not playing for the whistle, as stressed upon by former Indian International, who was a commentator and analyst for the game, Noel Wilson.

The second goal saw Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Narayan Das, both going ball-watching when a cross from the left sailed across the far post and seemed to go out of play, but was kept inside by Teremi and led to the second goal. The third goal also had few Indians waiting for the whistle while the alert Iranians played-on.

Sandesh Jhingan, Team India
Sandesh Jhingan was the best man for the Blue Tigers against Iran
Apart from all the negatives, there few many positives for team India.
  • Sandesh Jhingan in particular stole the show with his very own style of defending, sometimes putting his head on the line and sometimes throwing himself. The young lad looks like having the skills to become one of the best centre-backs in the country after such a display.
  • Sunil Chhetri is a class-apart. Whenever the highest Indian goalscorer had the ball, he looked threatening. His turns and small dribbles were a treat to watch. Hardly gave the ball away unlike most of the team members.
  • Stephen Constantine should be credited for his brave tactics which caught Iran off-guard. Fielding a 4-3-3 against Iran was never expected from team India with Sunil, Jeje and Robin upfront. Also, his brave decision to play new faces every now and then should be extremely appreciated.
  • Stephen Constantine
    Indian gaffer Stephen Constantine must be praised for the
    change in attitude and style he has injected in the team
  • The attitude and the fighting-spirit from the men in Blue was an eye-candy. It looked a different, an aggressive, a determined and a hungry team India.

To be very frank, it might look like the negatives are given too much importance over the positive when you read through the course of the article but its not the case. Stephen Constantine and the Indian team deserves a pat on the back for their performance in the World Cup Qualifiers till date. It looks a different outfit altogether. Yes, its disorganized at times, but it needs to be given time.
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