By registering a 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan, India find themselves in a comfortable position in their AFC Asian Cup qualifying group. The Blue Tigers should look forward to finding themselves in the UAE in 2019, barring a complete collapse in the next four games.
Two games against Macau follow and should India beat the relative lightweights in their group, they will be on 12 points. This should be enough to qualify, with two teams from every group heading to the Asian equivalent of the Euros.
The win over Kyrgyzstan was anything but easy, with the Central Asian teams squandering a lot of chances to go into the lead. But in the end Gurpreet Singh and Co held firm as the hosts scored through Sunil Chhetri to squeeze through to an important win.
So how did each individual fare:
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: 8 (Man of the Match)
The visitors had a lot of players plying their trade in Europe while the home team’s hero between the sticks was their only representative in the continent, playing for Norwegian side Stabaek FC.
Made at least eight saves on the night and rushed out of his box to try and stop attacks. India could have very easily conceded two or three without the Chandigarh-born stopper. He was immense on the night and Neuer-esque.
Chhetri deserves plaudits for his goal but the scoreline could have turned into a riot if not for GSS.
Pritam Kotal: 5
An improvement in his defensive play but the Mohun Bagan right-back’s final ball was disappointing. His crosses into the box too need to be worked on.
Gave the ball away cheaply in injury time of the first period and was lucky not to be punished for it. Did not contribute a lot in an attacking sense and must improve to play consistently at this level.
Narayan Das: 6
Put in far more defensive work than his fellow wing-back as a lot of Kyrgyz attacks came from his flank. Unlike Jacki who was playing in front of Kotal, the winger ahead of Das, Holicharan Narzary, came back and did his fair share of defensive work, making the left-back’s job marginally easier.
Sandesh Jhingan: 6
Fresh from his goal against Nepal, a brave but error-strewn display from the centre-back. Although Jhingan and fellow centre-back Anas did put their bodies on the line multiple times, the Punjabi put his side in trouble a lot of times by trying to play the ball out of defence. The Bengaluru FC player must learn to make more judicious use of the ball.
Anas Edathodika: 7
No nonsense as always and an emotional one for the Kerala defender given the illness of his father prior to the tie. Stood tall and firm at the back and made a goal-line clearance on a rare occasion when Gurpreet was beaten. Slowly becoming the most vital cog of this defence.
Rowllin Borges: 5
With eight stitches on his head from the Nepal game, the big question is whether Borges should have been out there in the first place. Taken off on 65 minutes, Borges struggled in the box-to-box role that Constantine entrusted him with and is frankly, much better off as an anchor man. There were times when the game bypassed him completely in midfield. Either needs to regain his ISL form or adopt a new role.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh: 6
Part of a deep-lying two that was completely overwhelmed in the opening quarter of the game. Ideally should be a good creative foil to Borges’s destroyer, but failed to stem the tide of Kyrgyz attacks early on in the game. Played some good balls to his mates ahead of him, but seems to be missing the spark of last season when he reached the AFC Cup final with Bengaluru FC. Could not retain possession at a time when it was vital to slow down the game.
Jackichand Singh: 5
Lots of huffing and puffing from the Manipuri winger as he was afforded space on the right early on and license to run at the opposition defence. His final ball remains suspect and was abysmally poor on the night. Was combative and tried to force the visitors into a mistake, but not nearly enough to deserve a starting berth. Should be replaced by Udanta Singh, when the latter returns from injury.
Holicharan Narzary: 6
Put in one wasteful cross at the beginning, but was generally very solid throughout the game. Did not shirk his defensive duties on the left as he got back often to help Das out. Had a shot on target and put in a couple of testing balls, one of which Chhetri got to but couldn’t convert. Went over to the right after Jacki was taken off. Satisfactory performance from the DSK man.
Sunil Chhetri: 8
Lots of chances throughout the match, even though he was heavily man-marked throughout the game. Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Seized his chance with aplomb after running past three defenders to set it up for himself after a one-two with Jeje. The old talisman of a new team. Could have had one more late on, but massive on the night.
You can read more about that goal here.
Jeje Lalpekhlua: 7
Battled gamely for 80 minutes before being substituted. Showed exactly why Stephen Constantine prefers him to Robin Singh with some incisive play, drawing opposition goalie Pavel Matiash into two good saves. Topped the evening off with a wonderful assist for Chhetri’s goal. Worked hard up top and should continue there in a one-top formation which suits the team better.
Mohammed Rafique: 5 (On 65th minute)
An assist and a start in the Nepal game but had to settle for a spot on the bench for this one. Brought on for Borges in what wasn’t exactly a like-for-like substitution and struggled like his predecessor against a Kyrgyz side superior with the ball at their feet.
Bikash Jairu: 4 (On 74th minute)
It is very hard to be critical of the winger returning from a long-term injury but the rustiness was there for all to see as he made his second substitute appearance within a week. Wasted a few good chances to put the ball into the box or to keep the attack going, one of which infuriated Robin Singh.
Robin Singh: 4 (On 80th minute)
Came on for Jeje with 10 minutes remaining after having started against Nepal. Ran willingly at the defenders but fluffed the one big chance which fell to him. With three minutes left, Chhetri’s beautiful release should have been converted by the burly striker, with Robin one-on-one with the goalie but a dreadful shot meant that the ball went over.