Let’s Football Live Twitter Spaces: India's dramatic win, Sahal Samad’s instant impact, and Hong Kong clash discussed

India continued their winning momentum in the third round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Afghanistan at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.

Sunil Chhetri and Sahal Samad were on the mark to make it two wins out of two for the Blue Tigers, as the latter’s injury-time goal turned the tide in favour of Igor Stimac’s men.

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Looking back at the last game, Hero ISL experts Anant Tyagi, Paul Masefield, Darren Caldeira along with head coach of the Reliance Foundation Youth Champs, Arata Izumi, discussed the Blue Tigers’ performance, key takeaways from the Afghanistan match while also being joined by the assistant coach of Kerala Blasters FC, Ishfaq Ahmed, as a special guest on the Let’s Football Live Twitter Space.

Here are the excerpts from the discussion:

On immediate takeaways from India’s win

Arata Izumi: The substitution of Sahal Samad replacing Sunil Chhetri clicked well. The players clearly showed that they have the desire, the energy, to overcome such situations that highlights the composure in front of the goal in the last moment, particularly the most important moment of the game. It was great to see such composure from these young players. There was no panic during the build-up to the goal. It was quite a tactical move, occupying spaces especially when it came to Brandon Fernandes as he moved towards the left side of the pitch with Ashique Kuruniyan holding three defenders to his side opening up Sahal Samad on the right side of the pitch, making the tiniest of pass to Samad who ends up scoring a beautiful goal. And of course, not to forget Sunil Chhetri, who is so concentrated and determined. He's a very motivated person with a great leadership quality, but still, he has his way of bringing himself into the zone to deliver this kind of important result in every single game of the national team 

Darren Caldeira: Afghanistan were a physical side as we could see with several challenges and a lot of tackles flying in. They lost their opening game, so this one was a make or break for them. India, on the other hand, continued to dominate the attack with the help of wing-backs Akash Mishra and Roshan Naorem who consistently shipped forward in the attack. But again, India failed to give the keeper a hard time, similar to their game against Cambodia. In the final third, the team is failing to convert the chances they've created.

Paul Masefield: Ashique Kuruniyan had a much bigger physical unit as compared to Brandon Fernandes, he got their captain booked too. He was a real thorn in the Afghan side. In the other change made by putting Jeakson Singh in, he should’ve buried that header from the corner. Sure, they created plenty of chances but they need to be lethal, and that’s been the situation in Indian football for several years now. They need to find a striker that is clinical and lethal in the final third. As I said before, the biggest thing is they’ve got the three points, now it’s six in the bag, they’ve a great chance to qualify now, it’s in their own hands now, just how they want it.

On Jeakson Singh’s breakthrough performance:

Darren Caldeira: It’s never easy to start such a game of magnitude and have such a good performance. He took a bit of time to adjust but once he settled in, he protected that defence with his tackles and kept it simple after winning the ball which is not easy when you play against such a physical side, so you have to give credit to him for fitting in the team with ease and ticking all the boxes. I hope he gets a lot more gametime for the national team because he’s got that quality.

On Sahal Samad’s instant impact as a substitute:

Ishfaq Ahmed: At Kerala Blasters FC, Ivan [Vukomanovic] and I had a chat with him, to get going on the ground and just score goals to take out the pressure of being criticised for not doing enough. I believe these words bring a huge difference to build up confidence. And now, as you can see, he has shown maturity [in his game]. It’s not easy to come in as a substitute, get settled in quickly with the team, and have a massive contribution in the team with a winning goal. One thing about Sahal is that he always listens, he knows there is still something missing and he wants to improve that for which he is continuously working.

On picking such a young and promising squad

Anant Tyagi: It was a great playing XI and even greater squad. Akash Mishra is the youngest at 20, Jeakson Singh - credit to what Ivan Vukomanovic and Ishfaq Ahmed have done to him, he looked like a different gravy - is only 20, has played only three games so far, should’ve scored that header. Anwar Ali is just 21, five games old, Suresh Wangjam is 21, Apuia is 21, Roshan Naorem is 23, Asish Rai is 23, Liston Colaco is 23, Anirudh Thapa is 24, Ashique Kuruniyan is 24, Udanta is 25, Sahal Samad is 25, and Manvir Singh and Subhashish Bose are 26. Now, it’s about trusting this bunch to take Indian football ahead. In my opinion, India should be through to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. If Stimac really wants the mood around football in India to change, he needs to to continue trusting this bunch. The more they play, the more they will learn to play together, understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And this could be the core until 2030 or 2034.

On the Hong Kong clash

Paul Masefield: Don’t care about Hong Kong, don’t worry about them. India has managed to tweak and twist their formation, and changed their personnel in two games and clinched the six points. I’m confident they can come back with three points against Hong Kong and can top the group with nine points. It will be the other way around, with Hong Kong worrying about India.  

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