AFC Asian Cup: The knives are out, but how bad was the Blue Tigers' game?

If you allow Uzbekistan time and space, they will kill you, says a rueful Igor Stimac

India faced a 3-0 defeat against Uzbekistan in the AFC Asian Cup, diminishing their chances of advancing (photo: AIFF)
India faced a 3-0 defeat against Uzbekistan in the AFC Asian Cup, diminishing their chances of advancing (photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The knives seem to be out for Indian football as the Blue Tigers were humbled 3-0 by Uzbekistan in their second group game of the AFC Asian Cup on Thursday, 18 January. A sense of disappointment is understandable as the defeat has virtually ended their chances of progressing to the next round, though there is a mathematical possibility of them still going through as one of the best third placed teams. 

However, languishing as the last team in the four-nation group and having conceded five goals from first two matches, it looks a long shot now. The last group match against Syria five days later will be more a matter of pride and given the show of character from the west Asian team (a 1-0 loss to Australia & goalless draw with Uzbekistan), it won’t be an easy job at all. 

The overriding question doing the rounds, especially for those who haven’t watched the game, is whether there was a qualitative drop in the performance of Sunil Chhetri & Co since the Australia match. Not really, but unlike their match against Socceroos where defence was the buzzword, India wanted to show a greater intent to win the match and changed their formation as well – something which saw them enjoying better possession as well as a few scoring opportunities.  

However, it’s never easy to comeback if the so called underdogs concede two goals within the first 18 minutes – thanks to lapses of concentration in defence and an error in judgement in case of the first goal by goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Down 3-0 at halftime, the match was over as a contest but the final scoreline – pardon the cliché – was not exactly a reflection of India’s overall show on the pitch.         

‘’They (Uzbekistan) deserved to win this game. They could score a few more but we could score a few too. If we take the goals away, which were caused again by our silly mistakes, I could be (proud) even with the performance, with the intention, with trying, with composure, with passing,” Stimac said in the post-match press conference. 

“It’s never a convenient time to concede a goal, either in the first 15 seconds or in the last minute of the game. If you allow Uzbekistan time and space, they will kill you. That’s what we did today,” he rued. 

The Croat’s assessment is a fair one, though questions are being raised if Indian football has gone back to square one – given the fact that the national team had given a better account of themselves in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. However, it was  decidedly an easier group they were pitched against in the UAE where they began with a 4-1 rout of Thailand, 2-0 defeat to the hosts and 1-0 to Bahrain.  

There can always be post mortem after the campaign but for now, Stimac wanted the football fraternity to stick by his boys. “We need to stick by them, be supportive of them and push them forward. Let’s stick together for the final game. Let’s see each other after five days and try to push these boys to get the win in the final game (against Syria), which might give us the opportunity to go forward in the eliminatory round,” he said. 

It was also heartbreaking for the Indian expat fans, who created the roar time and again but went home heartbroken. “We’re very sad about disappointing them today and feel sorry that it couldn’t happen today. I can promise that these boys can give you (supporters) lots of happiness this year,” Stimac added. 

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