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India vs Iran – What we learned from the match

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

India vs Iran – What we learned from the match

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Ayesha d'Souza


When Iran played hosts to India on March 24, 2016, the writing was already on the wall even before the match kicked-off. It seemed vague to conclude that a Team ranked almost 100 spots below Iran could earn a draw at the majestic Azadi Stadium, let alone win the fixture. The pertinent question, however, was, how many goals will Team Melli score? What will be the final score-line?

After 90 minutes of ruthless attacking display by Iran, the full-time score-line read 4-0, much to the relief of the Indian fans who were predicting a harsher score-line than the one already glaring through their screens. In retrospect, 4-0 doesn’t sound so bad given the fact that India were playing with a second string team, and although one can argue that Iran were fielding their ‘youth’ team, the moot point here is that India could’ve had it worse.

One man who should take all the credit for thwarting almost every Iranian attempt at goal with sheer acumen was Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Had the Stabek custodian been off colour in the clash, the score-line would have been much more contrasting. The lanky shot-stopper stood tall, kept his composure and made some fine saves to deny Iran, even from point blank ranges, pointing out to the fact that playing in Europe not only evolves you as a player, but also blows in you an air of confidence, which often proves to be the difference in big matches.

This is not the first time that Sandhu has proved his credentials. The former East Bengal goalkeeper played a pivotal role in India’s SAFF Gold Medal win proving to be almost unbeatable in between the sticks and making some fine saves in the final against Afghanistan. On the night of March 24th however, an inspired Sandhu could’ve saved India the blushes and might have even pulled out a clean sheet with the form he was in, had the Indian midfield and the Indian defence worked together as a single tightly-knit unit.

A non-existent Indian midfield is largely to blame for Sandhu’s woes as an inept Indian defence failed to soak up the pressure piled by the Iranians. Missing AIFF’s Player of The Year Eugeneson Lyngdoh took its toll on the Indian midfield as the unavailability of a holding Player led India to often lose possession, whilst rendering any resistance provided to Iran’s midfield. The Indian contingent even found it hard to stitch an array of passes, let alone launch forth a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The absence of Lyngdoh was largely felt as the Indian midfield also failed to feed the Indian attackers, a job prefect for the Bengaluru FC midfielder.

However, one man in the Indian midfield stood out. Pronay Halder played like a man possessed as he went for the tackles, did the dirty work, covered his players, and the legs that he provided in the midfield disrupted Iranian attack. The Mohun Bagan midfielder was Stephen Constantine’s find and justified the Coach’s selection giving his cent percent on the pitch.

While Halder might be a decent option for shielding the Indian defence and heedlessly running around to mark the opponent, he still has a lot to learn in the technical department and certainly has a long way to go before being touted as a complete midfielder.

This still does not hide the fact that the Indian midfield was close to non-existent in the match, and with the midfield hovering around the Indian 18-yard box, the Indian attackers were often left reeling without service. 

Playing with a 4-4-1-1, the Indian attacking department missed the services of Robin Singh, who was out of the clash nursing up an injury, which he picked up in India’s SAFF Campaign last December. The absence of Robin Singh clearly pointed out the fact that the Bengaluru FC forward is pivotal to India’s style of play. In the absence of Robin Singh, both Jeje and Halicharan Narzary struggled against the physical prowess of the Iranian defence, with no support coming from the midfield. With no focal point present upfront to pluck down balls from the air and feed the onrushing Indian forwards, India failed to register a solid shot at the Iranian goal.

Would the result have been different if India had gone with Robin Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri, who specialises in pulling the cat out of the hat? Probably not. The result would have still swayed in Iran’s favour, a team miles ahead of India in terms of technicality, tactical nous and everything concerning football. However the 4-0 performance is not as bad it sounds, given the fact that India were without the services of arguably its three most important players and with the National Camp being held for mere formality. Add to that the fact that Iran were leading by a solitary goal at half-time and two out of the four goals scored were via penalties.

The clash against Iran largely reflected that Stephen Constantine’s men showed character and girth but they lacked in technicality and skill, and that is where Iran overshadowed their opponents and took the game. 

(Read what Iran coach said about Indian football team's performance) 

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