India looked well-poised to progress to the round-of-16, but a dramatic stoppage-time goal from Mohamed Rashed turned the game on its head. The loss left the Blue Tigers reeling at the bottom of Group A with three points and forced the team out of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Where did India go wrong? What could the side have done better against Bahrain? Did Stephen Constantine get his tactics right? Here are the major talking points from the India vs Bahrain clash:
1) Anas Edathodika's injury
The centre-back's injury in the opening minute of the game blindsided the Indian camp. Anas appeared to be in trouble from the very first play of the game and was seen grimacing in pain. Following a brief chat with Sandesh Jhingan, the defender decided to call it a day. Bahrain striker Al-Romaihi seemed to offer him some consoling words as Anas left the pitch with disappointment writ large on his face. Anas had a tough outing in the clash against the United Arab Emirates, where he was partly to blame for the first goal, but was expected to play a key role in the crucial game against Bahrain.
His replacement, Salam Ranjan Singh, made his first appearance at the tournament. He didn't do much wrong but did not offer the same physical presence that Anas does. Had Anas been there, would he have made a cleaner tackle as compared to Pronay Halder's that led to the penalty? Would India have not looked so harried at the back had he remained on the pitch? These questions will linger for a while to come.
2) Rowllin Borges replacing Anirudh Thapa
This appeared to be an absolute shocker of a change when the team sheets were released before kick-off. Thapa was easily among the best players for India at the Asian Cup and him not starting was simply bewildering. Stephen Constantine later revealed in the post-match conference that Thapa had sustained a back injury and hence had to be replaced by Borges.
Also making his first start of the tournament, Borges looked out of place for most parts of the game. He looked for the tough passes but failed to make the simple ones which mattered. His lack of physicality made him easy to beat and his inability to dribble past the rival defenders meant he was one of the weaker links of the Indian team.
3) Acute lack of attacking intent
Constantine had said in the pre-match conference that his side was not looking for the draw, but its performance on the pitch said otherwise. Bahrain went all guns blazing and breached the rival citadel many a time, but the Indians showed little to no attacking intent and looked on the back-foot for the majority of the 90 minutes. India had all of three shots in the entire game as compared to Bahrain's 22. Out of the three, none found the target.
The attacking trio of Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri, and Ashique Kuruniyan failed to replicate the magic they created in the first two games. Udanta's wayward crosses failed to find the target, while Kuruniyan hardly made an impact and found no way past the defence. Chhetri saw little of the ball and had only one half-chance, which was also cleared away before he could take a shot.
4) The Jhingan show
Anas' injury meant the bulk of the defensive pressure fell on Jhingan's broad shoulders and he truly stepped up to the occasion to lead the defence. He was alert and vigilant throughout and kept the dangerous Al-Romaihi in check. Jhingan remained the backbone of the Indian defence and threw his body at the ball and put everything on the line to ensure the Bahrainis did not get ahead. He took a knock to his face, made the demanding sliding tackles and leaped at aerial deliveries.
5) Woeful passing
The Indians finished the game with all of 289 passes as compared to Bahrain's 425. The Blue Tigers simply struggled with the ball and were unable to stitch together passes. The players appeared to be torn apart between whether they should launch the ball far into the opposition half hoping Chhetri would chase it down or just make the simple short passes. Unfortunately for them, neither worked.
6) Stephen Constantine's resignation
Constantine's resignation brings an end to a four-year period that saw India scale heights it had never before. The team climbed the ranks to breach the top-100 barrier and reach 97, while it also went on a commendable 13-game unbeaten streak. Of course, a majority of those wins came against smaller teams, but it was a remarkable record nevertheless. The period also witnessed 47 players making their debut for the national team.
The highlight of his tenure was India reaching the Asian Cup after eight years and it was only fitting that he stepped down after what was essentially the biggest assignment of his managerial career.
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