Positive takeaways from India's memorable Thailand triumph
India picked up their first victory under new head coach Igor Stimac with a 1-0 win over Thailand in the King's Cup on Saturday. Now, the Blue Tigers scored a memorable win against the same opponents in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 back in January, but the recent triumph can be considered a tad more special, considering the circumstances involved. Stimac opted to field a very new-look team, sans first-team fixtures like Sunil Chhetri, Pritam Kotal, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Pronay Halder. Barring injuries, the quartet, especially Chhetri and Gurpreet, has been an ever-present part of the Indian team over the past three years and has been major stakeholders in any accomplishments by the national team.
Beating an illustrious side like Thailand, backed by vociferous home fans in their own backyard, that too, without the biggest names even featuring in the entire match can, and should, be held as a major win both for the team and Stimac. It hardly comes as a surprise though, considering over the course of this tournament we have seen the obvious depth in this new-look India squad, with talented players looking to push each other to get into the first team. Its an exciting development for Indian football with the team looking to push on and potentially start competing for international titles in the future.
Individually too, the players impressed and there were a few who deserve special mention.
The standout player of this match surely was Adil Khan. The FC Pune City man returned to the India setup after seven long years and put in a masterful performance in India's backline. Adil stood as a rock at the back, deflecting Thai attacks with well-timed blocks, tackles and interceptions. Strong in the air and composed on the ball, it won't be surprising to see the 30-year-old feature more prominently under Stimac in the coming years. On top of his defensive contributions, Adil was also a threat going forward and provided the assist for the winning goal.
Anirudh Thapa was another player who shone in the match and made the telling contribution with the winning strike. Although his goal was a tap-in, it was his positional intelligence to drift in at the far post behind the Thai defence that eventually led to the goal. On the ball, Thapa is one of India’s most creative players and the youngster possesses the uncanny ability to open up opposing defences with his clever movement and intelligent passing. Another key attribute he displayed during the match was his diligence towards his defensive duties. In the first half, Thapa pulled off a vital goal-line clearance which could very well have been Thailand’s equaliser, changing the narrative of the match completely. Not particularly known for his defensive skillsets, Thapa put on a tireless display against the War Elephants, routinely dropping deep to intercept the ball or just trying to cut off passing options for the opposition. It was a very well-rounded performance by him and with the strong competition provided by Sahal Abdul Samad for his position, the Chennaiyin FC man is expected to up his game even further in the future.
Amarjit Singh certainly repaid the faith Stimac showed in him by starting him in the Thailand match. The former India U-17 captain did the basics impeccably well, circulating the ball around and more importantly, took up good positions to always avail himself as an option for his teammates to pass to. He rarely made mistakes, kept the ball well and was fairly press resistant. A complete midfield performance for the youngster who could potentially develop into India’s midfield maestro in due time.
It was an impressive display overall by the young India team and was certainly a step in the right direction. The players seem to have bought into Stimac’s philosophy already and it will be interesting to watch them take the next step with the Hero Intercontinental Cup in July.