Sobriety will surely be swept aside from the menu. Ecstasy and bliss will be the prime order of the night in the dressing room as well the hotel of the Indian national football team, who summoned every bit of combined grit to snare a rare 1-0 away victory on a night that required them to put forth their best foot in Myanmar's largest city of Yangon.
The occasion was, of course, India's opening bout in Group A of their Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 qualification campaign. In a tempestuous, end-to-end duel on the pitch, India's Sunil Chhetri - a totem in a blizzard of change for The Blue Tigers - scored the unlikely winner for an Indian side who improvised on the night to hand Myanmar a majority of the possession in the second half, only to strike with what proved to be their last sting in the tail.
The number 11 scored thanks to the efforts of number 15, Udanta Singh, whose trailblazing run into the box and well-timedcross aided Chhetri's bullet into the bottom corner.
Starting from the outset, the starting XIseemed a resultof analysis by Stephen Constantine, who picked the players with what he believed were the right attributes for this tie. As evidenced, a 4-1-3-2 was the pick of order for the coach, who solicited the pace in the trio of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sunil Chhetri and Jackichand Singh to unlock a relatively young Burmese side's defence. Robin Singh towered up in the away side's box, while Rowllin Borges anchored the midfield. Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika represented locks to the Gurpreet Sandhu in goal.
However, the summary of debate revolved around just one question -Did the teamperform to their best? Well, in some cases, yesand in some, no.
First of all that centre-back pairing were as steady as rocks. Not only did the Bengaluru and Mohun Bagan menhold fort and deny a number of shooting opportunities for the Myanmar attackers, they also put caution to the wind in coming out to block every opportunity thatAung Thu and Kyaw Ko Ko got onthe end of. Crosses were dealt with relative ease when drizzled into the box and interceptions were made at queasing frequency when the Angels were in the ascendancy, particularly in the second half.
Edathodika, in particular, was conspicuous withhis tackling ability and seemed to snatch the ball at every opportunity. Jhingan was equally good and despite picking up a yellow in the first half, maintained composure in a tense second half for the away side. It's never easy to evince a clean sheet from foreign shores in a match especially of that magnitude, yet, on the basis of the evidence presented, it seems the British-Cypriot coach has his first choice centre-back pairing ascertained. Not only did they hold firm through the middle, but they also covered for the wing-backs, Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das, whenever necessary.
Coming to Constantine, a crucial aspect of the match that put the fabric of a tight defense under pressure was his tactic playing a high line. It created unnecessary havoc at the back, with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu often lumbering left, right and center to clear the ball in the guise of a sweeper keeper. Notably, the two times he came off the line in the second half, his rearguard bailed him out, with 'on the line' blocks.
Another facet of this team the gaffer needs put a magnifying glass over is thelack of any midfield spine. Borges was clumsy throughout the game, often handing the opposition free-kicks in areas where there should be no sniff afforded. Eugeneson Lyngdoh, on the other hand, was akin to a headless chicken, all huff but no puff. They barely offered the team any skill on the ball and the latter, who is shades off colour, needs to reformbehind the scenes to prevent sustained omission from the national team in the next few games.
Centering around midfield is the relative ease with which the Myanmar midfield circumvented the Indian one during their raids up the field. It can be countered that the defense did its job, butputting such strenuous pressure onto the shoulders of two players who have a combined total of 18 caps for the senior side isn't really fruitful. A balance needs to be maintained and a stronger spine needs to be reinforced.
Another midfield conundrum the former Rwanda coach faces is how he will bolster up his team's evidently limited creativity, with the midfield duo offering next to none. Sandhu was seen shunting the ball up the pitch at regular intervals, hoping to seed an attack off India's only number nine's ball holding ability. It worked minimally and the attacks that did come often came through Chhetri and Jackichand Singh pulling the Myanmar defense wide in the first half.
A screen shot of the attacking index in the second half will leave you more or less startled, with little to no impetus. This needs addressing too and fast.
Another residual flaw fromthe game, saw a lack of impetus from India's full-backs. This was because of the lack of cover offered by Jackichand Singh and Chhetri. This uncertainty forced the duo of Kotal and Das to sit back as often as possible, thereby negating what could've beentheir incisiveness in the final third for solidity at the back.
However, Constantine was spot on in changing the formation in the later stages and allowing the pacey Udanta Singh to have 30 minutes of un-frittered freedom which ultimately paid dividends for the national side. With the former skipper teaming up with Bengaluru FC teammate, it was always going to be India submitting themselves on the counter and they played that card to the tee. With time barely remaining, Udanta's sprint forward into the final third of Myanmar, who'd left nearly their entire team up in the Indian half for a winner, saw him leave behind Myanmar's covering defender, with Sunil Chhetri left to find the correctplacement with his first-time effort.
Profligacy is something The Blue Tigers have been struggling with and Jackichand Singh's harrowing miss in the first-half will have scarred many following the game live, with him shooting over the bar from under fiveyards to goal. Such chances cannot be wasted where India have few to clutch.
Overall, Constantine will be a happy man, to win away from home and with his side already 1/3rd of the way to nine points - his target for qualification in Group A. Asmile will play abouthis lips up to the next Asian Cup match day. For that smile to sustain itself till his teamreachesthe United Arab Emirates (UAE) however, India need to be a lot less divided with their performance and a lot more complete.