The Indian National Football Team began their AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 campaign with a 2-0 loss to 2015 Asian Cup champions, Australia, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on Saturday. 

Although the Blue Tigers frustrated the Socceroos with a remarkable defensive display in the first half, just five minutes into the second half, they conceded the first goal of the night through the feet of Jackson Irvine. Later, in the 73rd minute, they conceded the second when super sub-Jordan Bos tapped the ball into an empty net within a minute from stepping onto the pitch.

Losing to a team that made it through to the Round of 16 in the FIFA World Cup 2022, conceding defeats only against the two finalists, France and Argentina, in the process, was indeed a learning curve for the Sunil Chhetri-led side. The way India, sitting 102nd on the FIFA rankings, took on 25th ranked Australia was truly a gritty effort that exhibited a lot of determination from Igor Stimac’s men.

As India await their next challenge, against Uzbekistan, on January 18, let’s take a look at the takeaways from their loss in the Group B opener. 

Lapses in concentration hurt India

The Indian backline had been nothing short of brilliant against the Socceroos keeping the scoreline to a mere 2-0 loss. Australia kept sending waves of attack throughout the game but were left frustrated after the first half failing to break the deadlock even after taking 11 corners within the opening 45 minutes. 

But the second half saw a couple of disappointing goals which brought to light a concerning factor of the Blue Tigers, their lack of concentration and focus on their surroundings. The opener from Irvine was a result of Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu pushing a Martin Boyle cross right at his feet. The goal could have been prevented if Sandhu had been a bit more aware of his surroundings.

For the second goal, Jordan Bos was left completely unmarked in front of an open goal, gifting him probably the easiest chance of the night,  which he safely converted. Both the goals had more to do with a lack of concentration from the Blue Tiger’s backline rather than good football from Australia. 

India were focused for most parts of the match but the Australia game showed that any lapse in concentration can be very costly at the highest level.

Sandesh Jhingan leads the way

The FC Goa defender was exceptional against the Socceroos. With nine clearances and a crucial interception, the 30-year-old led the Indian defence with all his might. Winning two duels, two aerial duels and registering a remarkable 87.1% passing accuracy, Jhingan had been a wall in front of their goal.

The centre-back suffered a cut to his head in the first half but soldiered on thwarting the Australian attacks and encapsulated the spirit of the Indian team. Jhingan's brave effort will provide inspiration for the Blue Tigers for the rest of the campaign.

Lack of composure on the ball is an area to work on

India were under the pump for most matches and did well to frustrate their opponents but when on the ball, they didn't always show the composure needed to hurt their opponents. With only four shots attempted against the 28 of Australia, the difference between the two teams up front was ever so evident. Furthermore, Australia registered 71% possession compared to India’s 29%. 

Australia's press was difficult to negotiate but India did manage to beat in on a few occasions but didn't make the right decisions in the final third allowing Australia to gain complete control of the match and push India back.

The Blue Tigers will have to trust their ability with the ball a bit more in matches against Uzbekistan and Syria.

The performance against Australia gives India belief

India’s 2-0 loss against the Socceroos, although heartbreaking, gave the Blue Tigers and their fans a lot of hope to look forward to in the remaining fixtures. Restricting Australia to a 2-0 win, considering the huge difference in their FIFA rankings, was indeed a silver lining to the fixture. The Blue Tigers were able to hold fort and not let the floodgates open after the first goal and keep the scoreline respectable.

Instead of letting the result dishearten them, Stimac and his men seem set to do even better against Uzbekistan and Syria. The question - If they can frustrate a team of Australia's stature, then what can they make out of Uzbekistan and Syria - is what concerns the 1.3 billion people cheering for India, looking forward to their matches against Uzbekistan on January 18 and Syria on January 23. The glimmer of hope shines brighter than ever as the Blue Tigers aim to create history, building up on their 2-0 loss in the opening game.