Iran proves too good

If the purpose of holding the J. R. D. Tata Cup International Invitational football tournament at Jamshedpur in September was to try out the Indian under-20 probables ahead of the Continental level qualification, then it could be safely said that the objective was achieved to a large extent.

S. SABANAYAKAN

If the purpose of holding the J. R. D. Tata Cup International Invitational football tournament at Jamshedpur in September was to try out the Indian under-20 probables ahead of the Continental level qualification, then it could be safely said that the objective was achieved to a large extent.

Jubilant Iranian players, after winning the J. R. D. Tata Cup. -- Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

The two Indian teams — TFA White, comprising mostly of Indian under-19 regulars, and TFA Blue, consisting of non-regulars on an experimental basis — performed to their best of ability to give an insight to the two coaches, Englishman Stephen Constantine and Satheevan Balan, ahead of the Group-8 matches to be played at Turkmenistan from October 20. The other side in this three-team group is Kyrgyzstan.

Rubbing shoulders with Western Asia soccer power Iran, skilful Uzbekistan and an inexperienced Bangladesh, showed the two Indian teams in contrasting light. India White, expected to showcase the cream of junior talent, did not exactly deliver the goods as much as the experimental Blue side did. The expectations of the White making it to the final was rather heavy on the young shoulders and this exactly was the cause of the young hopefuls making heavy weather of the two main matches against Iran and Uzbekistan.

The team looked overawed by the size of the Iranians and failed to match the skill and craft of the Uzbeks. The Indian boys were not found wanting in terms of skill or tactical sense, but did suffer in terms of size and speed. Lack of height meant that the aerial attacks proved inadequate. The fitness of the team could be improved to withstand the 90 minutes of International football.

Iran's Hamed Rasoli takes a shot in the final against Uzbekistan. Iran won 2-0. -- Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

India White had some inherent weaknesses. It played in a 3-5-2 formation strongly advocated by Constantine. In this system the two wing halfs had a greater role to play: doubling up to be the two wing backs in defence and as wingers in attack. Jerry Zirsanga did fit the bill on the right, Debabrata Roy did not exactly have a nice time on the left. Had the injured Subhas Chakraborty, a player of first XI of East Bengal, been fit, he would have been the ideal choice. Whenever Chakraborty played in this position he gave the team the much-needed edge in attack and defence. Without this support left back Gurjinder Singh was totally exposed. This is turn brought pressure on central defender Habibur Rahman Mondal. Most of the goals scored against India White were from this area.

India White had just one playmaker in Malsawma. This diminutive midfielder was the heart and soul of the White's attack and when he was red-carded against Uzbekistan the team lost the sting. Striker Sutang Marlanki's knee injury in the first game against Bangladesh ruled him out of the tournament leaving White with just two strikers in Vanlal Rova and Vimal Pariyar. Rova missed more opportunities than scored while Pariyar needed more experience at this level. He was also too young.

Team's captain Gouramangi Moirantem Singh, a defensive medio, matched the size of an Iranian or an Uzbek but proved to be too slow. Manjit Singh also needed experience at this level. Right stopper N. S. Manju looked solid but was never tested seriously. The two best players of the White were goalkeeper Subrata Pal and defender Habibur Rahman Mondla.

Vanlal Rova (13) of India TFA White scores the first goal against Bangladesh. The India team won this match 3-0. -- Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

India Blue had three players in goalkeeper Subhashis Roy Chowdhury, defender Subhas Mondal and midfielder Bhola Prasad who accompanied the Indian junior team to the tour of Ireland. The rest were untested material and quite a few players made their presence felt.

Left stopper Warun Deep looked the best possible talent to walk into the Indian side. The two midfielders who stood head and shoulders above the rest were N. Khemtang Paite and captain Suting Lekini. Among the frontliners, S. Kuttimani's height negates his lack of speed in challenging the defenders to the high lobs.

Both the Indian teams, trained together for a month under Constantine, adopted the long throughs and low, speedy centres from the wings as the attacking forms. The teams suffered bouts of lapse in concentration and lacked the will to fight back when chips were down.

N. Khemtang Paite (left) and Babin Biswas of India TFA Blue try to baulk Nadar Ahmadi of Iran. The Indian team lost this match. -- Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

Constantine admitted that "a lot of work had to be done" before the team was turned into a solid, cohesive unit to take on the best of the continent.

Iran emerged the best, defeating Uzbekistan in the rain-ruined 70-minute final by a brace of goals. Coached by Hamid Ali Dasti, who played in the German league for a few seasons, the Iranians were big, strong and highly matured for their passport age of 18 or 19.

The Iranians possessed a strong defence and a capable midfield and an imaginative attack. It played in a 4-4-2 formation and was adept in gaining superiority in the attack. Dasti had combined the individual skill with power soccer as practised in Europe. The Iranians gave nothing away and lived upto the pre-tournament expectations of the favourite.

Uzbekistan was clearly the best side in terms of individual skill, technique and tactics. Each one of its players was very good with the ball and based their football on two proven system: tough like the Europeans and silken touch like the Brazilians. Off the ball running, imaginative passes, speedy wing play and positional sense marked the Uzbeks game.

It was a pleasure to watch the Uzbeks display their free flowing game. The uncompromising defence, cool and calculative midfield buildup and surprise in attack all combined to make their football a potent one. The Indian coach put this side as the one to watch in the Asian qualifiers. Uzbekistan was clubbed with Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

The third foreign team, Bangladesh, looked out of place in this tournament. Having come to Jamshedpur to gain experience, the Bangla players looked the weakest among the five. Used to playing on rain affected clay pitches back home, Bangladesh held Uzbekistan 3-3 after trailing 0-3 at one stage. The Uzbeks, not used to playing on such underfoot conditions, could not keep their body in balance. Bangla players utilised this opportunity to strike back in quick succession to earn the lone point in the championship.

Bangladesh has to go a long way to reach a stage where it could take on the best in Asia. As per its coach the junior programme in that country was yet to take deep roots and Bangladesh's immediate endeavour was to give importance to this aspect of development.

The tournament was conducted smoothly with the typical Tata flavour, high-class hospitality. All the teams praised the conditions, both on field and off it, in unison. The tournament, which cost Tata Steel a little over Rs. 30 lakhs, proved a real eye opener for Indian football.

How many junior tournaments of some stature were held in India? It is time the All India Football Federation looked into this most vital aspect.

As many as 19 of the 36 boys were from the Tata Football Academy. The TFA boys not only form the bulk of the Indian team but also are the best-equipped skill wise. More such academies in India should be encouraged, for it would provide a large pool of talent to support the cause of the Indian football.

The results:

Final: Iran 2 (Milad Midavoodi, 3rd, Nadar Ahmadi, 68th) bt Uzbekistan 0. League: India TFA Blue 2 (N. Khemtang Paite,18th. Suting Lekini, 85th) bt Bangladesh 1 (Anowar Hussain, 43rd); Uzbekistan 1 (Shakhboz Umarov, 21st) drew with Iran 1 (Milad Midavoodi, 52nd); Indian TFA White 3 (Vanlal Rova, 35th, Gurinder Singh, 37th (penalty), Malsawma, 51st) bt Bangladesh 0; Uzbekistan 2 (Shakhboz Erkinov, 75th, Abbas Abdullayev, 86th) bt India TFA Blue 0; Iran 1 (Milad Nori, 58th); drew with India TFA White 1 (Habibur Rahman Mondal, 73rd); Uzbekistan 3 (Sobir Usmankhoajaev, 32nd, Shakhboz Erkinov, 39th, Abbas Abdullayev, 64th) drew with Bangaldesh 3 (Mohammad Jahid Hussain Ameli, 77th, Anamol Haque Sharif, 78th, Maloy Barman, 87th); India TFA White 2 (Malsawma, 67th, Vamal Pariyar, 82nd) bt India TFA Blue 1 (P. C. Lalam Pula, 24th); Iran 4 (Milad Midavoodi, 7th, Milad Nori, 44th, Hamed Rasoli, 67th, Mohsen Afrozin, 69th) bt Bangladesh 0; Uzbekistan 2 (Abbas Abdullayev, 28th, Shakhboz Umarov, 73rd) bt India TFA White 0; Iran 2 (Milad Midavoodi, 30th, Mehrdad Oladi Ghadikolaei, 93rd) bt India TFA Blue 1 (Sumit Thapa, 83rd).

League Table P W D L GF GA Pts Iran 4 2 2 0 8 3 8 Uzbekistan 4 2 2 0 8 4 8 India TFA White 4 2 1 1 6 4 7 India TFA Blue 4 1 1 2 4 7 3 Bangladesh 4 0 1 3 4 12 1