India-Syria Match Point: After getting thrashed in the previous two matches, India football team bounced back to give Syria a tough time. Syria who are currently ranked 85th in the world, came out all guns blazing against a lower ranked team India. Syria needed to win the match to qualify for the final, however, a rejuvenated India dented their hopes.
Syria created decent amount of goal scoring opportunities in the first half but failed to capitalise on them. India on the other hand continued to threaten the Syrian goal on counter attacks. In the second half, India pounced on one such opportunity created from a corner. The 18 year-old Narender Gahlot headed the ball home from a sweet curling corner by Anirudh Thapa. The Syrians were later awarded a penalty from a needless foul by the 20 year-old Jerry Lalrinzuala. Firas al Khatib calmly converted from the spot kick to pull the scoreline back square. However, it turned out to be too-little-too-late as Syrians got knocked out of the tournament. The final will be played between North Korea and Tajikistan.
The Rise of Youngsters
18-year-old Narender Gahlot was awarded the Man of the Match for a fine goal and good defensive play through the course of the game. He became the first player born in the 21st Century to score for India. The Indian Arrows player is now the second youngest goal scorer for the Indian Football team.
Another young player who has impressed the audiences is Amarjit Singh. The young lad captained India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The Indian coach heaped praises for the midfielder during Kings Cup in Thailand. The two youngsters are an exciting prospect for times to come.
In addition, the likes of Anirudh Thapa, Jerry, among others have established themselves as regular starters. The likes of Ashique Kuruniyan is also waiting in the wings, hoping to come out of his injury at the earliest.
India-Syria Match Point: Igor Stimac started with the likes of Chhangte, Udanta and Chhetri upfront to give them a cutting edge during the counter attacks. The three forwards now seem to be part of Stimac’s group of core players. In the future, the two young wingers will look to strengthen their chemistry with the much more experienced Sunil Chhetri. Together they have the potential to wreak havoc in the opposition half, and now for a change, India have pace down the flanks.
Abdul Samad is the future
ISL and AIFF Emerging Player of the Year, Sahal Abdul Samad, has turned a lot of heads during the Intercontinental Cup. The 22-year-old has the ability to dribble past defenders, play the right through balls, and even shoot from distance, something India missed at the heart of midfield. Both Sunil Chhetri and Igor Stimac have termed the youngster as the next big thing in Indian Football.
Defence Remains a Cause of Worry and Needs Freshness
India continued to miss the experience of Sandesh, Adil and Anas at defence. These players were sidelined due to health issues. Rahul Bheke had put in a very solid performance at centre-back position against Syria, probably the best we have seen of him in national colours. The back-four is expected to go through changes with return of senior players.
India-Syria Match Point: In the post-match conference, Indian Coach said, “We will analyse our mistakes again and learn from them. We made some mistakes today when we were pushed down. We need to be strong. I am proud of them. I am the happiest coach in the world today after the two defeats [against Tajikistan and North Korea] and receiving criticism. We have shown we have great talents, that we need to push them out on the pitch. I need to stick with them. Never mind how bad they play. If we don’t give them time they won’t get better.”
Igor Stimac added, “I was not brought here to give just few wins and losses and be nowhere in the middle of somewhere. It’s easy to play against certain teams below the range and get the wins. But to feel better as a team it takes time, courage and passion. I warned the nation… this way we choose to play we will need a lot of sacrifice and suffering. That is how these young talented kids will grow,“
Speaking about selecting his core players he said, “I try to teach them bit by bit. I can’t put too many things at one time. I did that before the second game [against Korea] and they lost it completely. I had to do it because we don’t have much time. These were three games we had before [World Cup 2022] qualifiers… maybe one more. I don’t have more time for friendlies. I need to find 15-20 players who are going to fight for India.“