India topped the table at the end of four matches in the ongoing SAFF Championships 2021 as they amassed eight points and booked a berth in the final. On Wednesday, they scored three goals against Maldives, the reigning champions who were playing on home soil, in what was a must-win tie.
The Blue Tigers haven’t been at their best in the competition as they struggled to find the back of the net with the strikers being guilty of misfiring in the first three games. However, that wasn’t the case against Maldives as India produced their best display, especially in attack, to progress into the final.
Obviously, there are several talking points from the game however, herein we bring forth the three more important ones:
India’s defence doesn’t inspire confidence
In the opening 31 minutes, three of the four defenders found their name in the referee’s book. In fact, one of them could possibly have been shown a red card as well for his reckless foul. Ali Ashfaq had two glorious chances in the opening half hour wherein, had he been more aware about his team-mates’ movement, a square pass would have resulted in two goals for the home side. It was thanks to his poor decision-making that India didn't concede. When tracking, the defenders lost their man regularly and on several occasions were guilty of passing the ball straight to the opposition, a trait which has been witnessed on countless occasions at SAFF Championships.
Not to forget the penalty awarded for the needless foul. Coach Igor Stimac did bring on a substitute at the back who also could have picked a booking, had the referee not being more lenient.
Apuia - ability plus confidence personified
One of the major criticisms of this Indian side is that they don’t have enough players who can control the ball or even play a proper forward pass with confidence. Sideways passing has been the dish which has been served to the Indian fans. In what was his fourth start for the Indian team, Lalengmawia produced a sublime display where he always provided an outlet for his team-mates to receive a pass. The 20-year-old has shown maturity and his ability to carry the ball, switch play at will make him stand out from among the rest of his peers in the middle of the park.
A significant change in India’s attacking ploy against Maldives was that there were better quality crosses whipped in, especially from the right. Pritam Kotal, apart from giving away the penalty, made some good overlapping runs down the right - which we last saw him do back at Mohun Bagan under Sanjoy Sen when they won the I-League. One of his deliveries saw Sunil Chhetri score his second of the evening. Mohammed Yasir has certainly been India’s best crosser in the competition and his coordination with Kotal helped India look more threatening when going forward.
Manvir Singh certainly deserves a mention for the fantastic finish as he got on the end of a Brandon Fernandes pass. Also, Chhetri has four goals in the tournament with two goals against Maldives. On another day, he could have had a hat-trick having struck the crossbar in the first half. In fact, he has scored eight goals in six matches against Maldives in his career.