Talking points from India’s narrow loss against New Zealand

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Talking points from India’s narrow loss against New Zealand

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Subhayan Dutta

06/07/2018

India’s prolific run in the Intercontinental Cup came to a shuddering halt on Thursday as the Kiwis beat the hosts 2-1 at the Mumbai Football Arena inflicting the campaign’s first defeat. However, India have made it to the final and now await Kenya’s result against Taiwan to find out who they face.

New India, Same old problems

Apart from cricket, the only sport that the Kiwis have truly excelled is rugby. Coming from the Oceania region, New Zealand players have been blessed with a muscular built that India knew they would need to tackle wisely, which was seen in the flurry of tackles the game just as the game kicked off. The Kiwis were seen sticking to their strengths throughout the first-half as the full backs and wingers were seen sending in numerous crosses right from the word go. 

Stephen Constantine, who had handed defensive duties to Salam Ranjan Singh and Subhasish Bose in place of the experienced Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika, found the defence shaky. While neither of the side had a height advantage over the other, with both teams having an average height of 1.79, New Zealand clearly enjoyed a technical superiority in the air. Their two strikers, Myer Bevan and Andre de Jong, remained a thorn in India’s defence throughout the entire game. And had it not been for some magnificent reflexes by Amrinder Singh, who came in place of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and produced the save of the game in the 35th minute to fully stretch and keep out Nikko Boxall’s header from a corner, the outcome would have been different.

Can Loris Karius breathe a sigh of relief, at least in India, now?

These past few months in football have all been about goalkeeping blunders. It all started with Bayern Munich’s Sven Ulreich gifting an easy goal to Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema in the UEFA Champions League semis. It had caused a huge uproar in the club with the goalkeeper even publicly apologizing for what looked like the blunder of the season. However, just when Real thought they couldn’t get any luckier on their way to win the UCL title for a record third time, in came Liverpool’s Loris Karius with a blasphemous performance on the biggest stage on European club football and hand Real the title in the final.

The player has since been living a nightmare with now reports even claiming that the player had even suffered a concussion during the game. New Zealand’s Michael Woud’s display was nothing short of it and that too without any concussion. Woud has been shaky since the beginning of the game giving India almost a penalty against the run of play in the 22nd minute. However, his biggest moment of the night came in the 47th minute when the Sunderland U-23 goalie made a total mess of a backpass by slamming into India’s best player, Chhetri's leg. And given the form Chhetri has been enjoying at the moment, the haphazard touch had only one place to go - at the back of the net.

India’s improved temperament a huge positive

Despite the two consecutive 3-0 wins that India had registered, the score line in the Thursday’s loss didn’t aptly reflect India’s approach towards the game. While the first game against Chinese Taipei looked as easy as it could get, the one against Kenya had numerous shocks in the first-half that the African nation just could take. India needed a massive help from the relentless downpour and soggy turf in their second game which, mixed with Kenya’s lackluster finishing, was one of the biggest reasons for their 3-0 slump in that game. However, that unlikely win seemed to have given India the much-needed confidence, which was at display against the All Whites.

New Zealand were obviously the better team against India in all three departments, and except the few goalkeeping blunders here and there, they were on the front foot most of that game. But, the lacking possession didn’t discourage the Indian side at all as they remained on their toe waiting for the perfect counter throughout the game and when they eventually got in the second-half, they took the lead instantly. Even when they conceded the second goal in the dying minutes of the game, India were quick to create few chances only for the players to miss. India might have lost the game, but how they played bode well ahead of the final game.

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