October 23, 2021

Indian football: 3 takeaways from India’s friendlies against Oman, UAE

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A few important takeaways from India’s games against Oman and UAE…

India took the field after 492 days without football and resumed their preparation for the upcoming World Cup-Asian Cup qualifiers with international friendlies against Oman and UAE in Dubai. 

Head coach Igor Stimac handed out 11 debuts to Indian footballers and presented a new-look Blue Tigers to the audience back home. However, their displays left a lot to be desired. 

A second-half header by Manvir Singh helped India hold Oman in the first game. Against the mightier UAE, Stimac’s team was thrashed 6-0. 

It is important to remember that these are friendly games played to gain match fitness, experience, try out new methods and players on the field. With that in mind, below are the three takeaways from this international break for the India national team. 

Reality check, not humiliation 

UAE and Oman are 74th and 81st in the men’s FIFA Rankings whereas India are 104th. When India played against weaker opponents in friendly games, there was hue and cry about the necessity to face off against strong teams who are above India in the rankings. Now that they have done, Indian football has been dealt a reality check. 

India just did not have enough quality to take on their opponents this time around. There were no easy giveaways out on the field and the Blue Tigers were truly tested. The games showed that India still lacks the fundamentals – both technical and physical attributes that are required to shine on the international stage. 

Bring on baby leagues, development at the grassroots and better levels of coaching at the youth level and only then we can talk about competing with Asian giants. Let Indian kids explore their potential in playing football when they are kids and let them get picked up by academies long before they hit their teens. And then we will see the difference. 

You need to get exposed to quality coaching at a very young age to mould quality players. Unfortunately in India, kids do not get exposed to the same unless they are well into their teens. 

India has to improve not just technically, but also physically because as it stands, the top teams in Asia are likely to just bully the Blue Tigers off the pitch. If you compare the physique of Indian players with West Asian giants, the muscle mass is not even comparable. And that is the reason they were being bullied off the ball. The best example is UAE’s final goal against India. 

Chemistry affected style

A total of 11 new Indians earned their debuts for the national team under Stima during the two friendlies. The friendlies are an opportunity to test out new players and hence the coach cannot be blamed for doing exactly that. However, there was also a stubbornness to play possession-based football disregarding the superiority and strengths of the opponents. 

Granted, Stimac is trying to improve the team’s style of play but there could have been a more balanced approach with several new players coming into the squad. For an average Indian football supporter, seeing Adil Khan and Mashoor Shereef struggle as ball-playing centre-backs in a high line against Ali Mabkhout and co. was a nerve-wracking experience. 

Manvir Singh can lead the line

With Sunil Chhetri out of the picture for the friendlies, Manvir Singh had the chance to lead the line and he took his chances. He wasn’t extraordinary in the final third but showed glimpses of how the Indian attack might look like in the future. 

The question of Chhetri’s replacement remains unanswered. And the biggest hindrance to solving that puzzle is the lack of Indian forwards playing regularly in the domestic leagues. Manvir is the lone candidate as it stands, following his impressive campaign with ATK Mohun Bagan. Who will compete with him?