A delayed flight, a friendly that was almost cancelled only to be given the green light at the last minute, a striker-less line-up subsequently; India’s trip to Amman was certainly eventful.
Yet, it was an injury that Sunil Chhetri sustained against the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League that kick-started the chaos. Coach Stephen Constantine in a New Delhi press conference spoke about his helplessness at which players received game-time and which players didn’t, when a question about mis-firing attackers arose.
That prophecy played itself out against Jordan as midfielder Anirudh Thapa started up front, with none of the seven attackers that were stuck at the Kuwait International Airport starting. Only two of them even named on the bench.
Due to the events that preceded the game, the expectation was that Constantine would name a changed line-up from the one that faced China. While that was possibly the 11 which would start in the Asian Cup in January, this was one best filed under ‘containment 101’.
Thapa started up front, Jerry Lalrinzuala was pushed forward to the wing, Anas Edathodika and Salam Ranjan Singh started in defence with Sandesh Jhingan on the bench. What resulted was a flat back seven with Thapa ploughing a lone furrow up front.
The plan was clear; get to half-time without conceding a goal. The first half was as one-sided as any under Constantine in his second reign, India barely getting out of their own half. Jackichand Singh, India’s best hope of an outlet, barely got into the game but then neither did any of the front three, Lalrinzuala doubling down with Subhasish Bose on the left.
The intent was more apparent in the first half but with Ashique Kuruniyan up front, the one goal was as good as it could have got. The Blue Tigers didn’t create enough, didn’t get forward often enough and failed to keep it air-tight at the back.
Gurpreet’s howler punishes the plan
The ‘0-0 at halfway’ plan almost came crashing down when the referee pointed to the spot.
Gurpreet, who hadn’t conceded in his previous four international appearances, dived low and right to keep Bani Atiyeh’s spot-kick out.
Soon, he did bring Constantine’s plan to null with a moment of madness that would make a second division keeper look better.
A long punt by his opposite number Amer Shafi bounced over the Indian keeper’s head and as he scrambled backwards, could only help it into the net.
An official report and Rusell Osman on commentary termed the bounce ‘vicious’, but the Bengaluru keeper should hold his hands up at an error that an Indian number one cannot expect to commit under any pitch circumstances.
The mentality didn’t change much after the goal, the Indians kept plugging away at set-pieces and the moment it became apparent that they had to score away from home to force a draw, it was uphill from there.
Anas and Kotal didn’t make it easy for the keeper. The former showed signs of rustiness, while Kotal was given the run-around all evening by Yasin Al-Bakheet. Bose, the latest in a long line of uninspiring left-back displays despite there being an abundance of left-sided full-backs, is possibly better utilised in the centre.
The custodian did pull off some saves. But just like he earned the plaudits against China, he should rightly shoulder part of the blame against Jordan. It was long in a series of inconsistencies displayed by Gurpreet since his return to India and with an unsettled defence to sort out, Constantine will not want to worry about his keeper.
A lack of creators
A lot of chatter surrounded the lack of quality attackers going into the match. With Thapa the midfielder up front, India missed a creative force like the Eugeneson Lyngdoh of 2016.
The chances weren’t created nor were balls pushed into threatening areas for Jordan to worry about. The need for a creator has never felt greater nor has the reliance on wing-play to deliver balls into the middle.
India will need to create more high percentage chances against the better sides or rely on the defence to bail the team out. Both look unlikely at this point of time, as Jordan providing more evidence to the contrary. Chaotic as the pre-match was, it ended rather meekly in Amman.