“We will play to win. We have no other choice but to play to win,” said Luis Norton de Matos ahead of his Indian side’s second-group stage match against Colombia on Monday.
The first match saw a turnout of 36,000-plus turn up to cheer the young colts and that may or may not be the case come kick-off, but the Indian side will look to start faster than they did against the US in their 3-0 defeat.
Both in the aftermatch of the game and in the run-up to the second one, De Matos has maintained the narrative of a ‘2-1 scoreline’ and how the game was closer than it appeared. The Portuguese has stressed that the scoreline was harsh on his team but those that were at the game, may not necessarily agree with his assessment.
Boris is back
De Matos may very well be shielding his young squad from criticism, but at the same time, his claim that the first-half penalty wasn’t justified appears to have hold no ground. The coach seems to also forget that if the US had taken their chances, we could have been talking about a much more lopsided scoreline.
The defensive organisation that the young Blues displayed has drawn praise from all quarters, but goalkeeper Dheeraj Moirangthem still had to face more shots with de Matos going for an unusual defensive formation against a formidable US attack.
Against Colombia, they will welcome Boris Singh Thangjam back, which should see them revert to a more conservative formation. Boris, with his speed and industry, is indeed one of the best players in this line-up but has shown occasional tendencies of getting caught high-up the pitch.
The Portuguese, a follower of the Jose Mourinho school of management, had stated that his team was nervy in the first half against the US. He will hope that it was the right diagnosis as the young Blues failed to get out of their own half, often failing to string more than two passes together.
Will De Matos play four at the back?
There are also two ways of looking at the ultra-defensive approach that India did adopt against the US; it prevents a heavy, demoralising defeat or that it hinders the creativity and quality that India possess going forward.
They may have hit the crossbar in the dying minutes of the game, but there were hardly any scraps for the attackers to feed off as the midfielders were unable to get the ball to the frontmen, inviting more pressure upon the team.
The 4-3-3 formation that the Portuguese seems to prefer, may make a comeback as Rahul KP and Komal Thatal may flank Aniket Jadhav up top as Suresh Wangjam, Ninthoinganba Meetei and captain Amarjit Kiyam may make up the numbers in the midfield.
With Boris returning however, Ninthoi may make way for the right-back as De Matos has hinted at being more adventurous in this match. It will also be interesting to see if he opts for the no 10 Abhijit Sarkar as part of his midfield three as that would only leave Amarjit and Suresh as the holding two in midfield.
Campaz the biggest threat
Unlike many of the match-ups in this World Cup, India have faced Colombia before, at a four-nation tournament in Mexico City where they were defeated 3-0. Asked about the style of play they were likely to face against the South Americans, de Matos believed that most of their attacks would come in from the left.
The left winger, Jaminton Campaz, is especially likely to be Colombia’s biggest threat as the South Americans play a physical brand of football, which will be hard for India to match up to. Anwar Ali and Jitendra Singh will also be wary of the tall centre forward, Deyman Cortes, who notched up the only goal of the match against the Minerva Under-20’s in a pre-tournament friendly match.
Colombia also lost their first match, a 1-0 loss to Ghana as they looked fatigued in the last 10 minutes of the game. Coach Orlando Restrepo had admitted that he may have got his tactics wrong and they come into this game as favourites to get the three points.
De Matos has been the first one to admit a gulf in class between his team and the others, especially when it came to competitive experience. He will also be aware of the fact that India cannot fight fire with fire, and may have to resort to a fast-passing game to stifle the Colombians.
A first taste of World Cup football has arrived, and with it, hopefully the coach too has more experience in his kitty. So will he put his money where his mouth is and let the team express itself, or will it be a safety-first approach once again? It could make all the difference for a team, looking to make its mark at home.