An injury-time equalizer from Seminlen Doungel rescued India from yet another dispiriting performance during their FIFA World Cup 2020 Qualifiers game against Afghanistan at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. India, who stay on the fourth spot in the Group E standings, remain winless in their campaign, and a draw has somehow helped them from crashing out completely from the Qualifiers.

Knowing the importance of the game, manager Igor Stimac went with a rather attacking approach where Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh were asked to stretch, while youngster Sahal Abdul Samad complimented captain Sunil Chhetri upfront.

Neither team dominated the proceedings in the early part of the game, but Afghanistan grew in confidence as the game moved on. By the stroke of opening 30 minutes, Afghanistan started testing India’s Gurpreet Singh Sandhu between the sticks. The towering keeper did very well in denying the early phase of the attacks but failed in his attempt in the closing minutes of the first half when Zelfagar Nazary fired home with a neat finish.

Stimac called in the services of Farukh Choudhary and Manvir Singh in the second half, but the Afghans had enough brute in their tank to make sure their keeper stays out of trouble. India though dominated the final minutes and Stimac threw the final roll of the dice by introducing Doungel for the defender Pritam Kotal. The change did pay dividends, but a game which was supposed to fall in India’s kitty ended in a rather disappointing manner.

India still in transition under Stimac

Stimac has time and again emphasised on a more possession-based football, but his philosophy is yet to bear fruit. India do enjoy a majority of possession at times, but the ball keeps on rotating between the four defenders or the defensive midfielder.

As seen against Afghanistan, it took India more than a minute to get out of their own half, and once they did, the players were quickly disposed of. It’s not that the Afghans were playing a high-line football; they were rather enjoying relaxed early minutes as the Indian defenders strolled with the ball between them. And this approach has now made India quite vulnerable in penetrating the opposition back-line.

Bad day in the office for Mandar Rao Dessai

To say India’s Mandar Rao Dessai had a horrible time would be an understatement to make. The left-back was a constant target of Afghanistan’s attacking wave, and he hardly did anything during the time he was on the field.

Spotting out the weak link early on in the game, the Afghans targeted Mandar’s flank for most of their attacks and as many as four set pieces were won in the area in the first 25 minutes. Doing the needful, the 27-year-old was duly taken off by the stroke of half-time and the result was evident.

India missed a creative outlay

Having deployed Brandon Fernandes alongside Pronay Halder, Stimac somehow limited the former towards contributing more in the attack. With the FC Goa midfielder tasked to guard the back-line, India missed the services of a creative outlay; someone who can dictate the game in the midfield and play decisive balls at times.

That brings us to the question of why the manager didn’t bring Anirudh Thapa when he was required the most. Introducing Doungel sure was a masterstroke, but it was actually the midfield which required a firm reinforcement.  

Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @IndianFootball