From construction workers to government servants, India faced a unique challenge from St Kitts and Nevis in the second and final game of the three-nation series in Mumbai on Thursday. As part of their preparation ahead of the crucial AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against Macau, the game exposed a number of worrying moments as they were held to a 1-1 draw by a side that was made up of amateur footballers.
Chasing their tenth straight win, India were put to the sword by the Caribbean outfit, who were fielding a side full of amateur players. Five of their premier players were on club duty and skipped the trip to India. In their stead, played a motley crew of assorted players who’s passion translated in a spirited performance.
Led by aptly named skipper, Leader Thrizen, St Kitts mounted chance after chance in the second half, as the hosts were left to chase the game. Thrizen, who works in the St Kitts water department, has been representing his country on and off since 2004. With more accomplished players in the mix, his chances to represent his country have been few and far between. While one of his teammates is a construction worker, another works in a bank and plays football in his spare time.
The country with a population of around 50,000, though, has plenty of players with passion for the game. On Thursday, the passion translated quite well on the other side of the globe.
St Kitts scored their only goal of the game in the 71st minute as Amory Gvaune found the back of the net, after coming on just minutes before.
India were wasteful and sat back even after conceding the goal. St Kitts, to the surprise of many were the one dictating the game in the second half.
As the India players laboured from one move to the other, St Kitts showed purpose. They were sniffing around for a win, while the hosts looked content with a draw.
Earlier, India enjoyed a fine first half with Jackichand Singh putting them in front in the 38th minute. He pounced on a neat cross by Rowlin Singh to give his side the lead. They had a few more decent chances, but could not quite find themselves in clear goal-scoring positions.
In the second-half, Balwant Singh was substituted and Robin Singh was brought in. The latter, though, was not as lucky in front of goal. His teammates too seemed to have lifted their foot off the pedal.
Playing without senior pros Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, India were not at their full strength, but had enough ammunition to sail through an opponent which were missing almost a bulk of their top players.
To coach Constantine’s credit, he substituted two of his key performers - Jackichand and Eugenesen - in the second half despite the change in momentum. His focus on preparation ahead of the Qualifier was clear.
India’s bench strength, though, was exposed by the St Kitts forward line.
The draw snaps India’s winning streak that had lasted for nine games prior to Thursday’s match.
It is a timely wake up call for India, who have been flying high following their two back to back wins in the Asian Cup Qualifiers, where they sit on top of their group.
For the record, India were named winners of the Tri-nation series having beaten Mauritius 2-1 in the opening game.