The Socceroos down the valiant Blue Tigers - India versus Australia AFC Asian Cup Match Review !

Courtesy : MBSG/IFT/AFC Media

A game of football can give birth to many emotions. From tears of joy to those of sorrow, from excitement and the adrenaline rush to the boredom of a goal less draw, football has everything. And on Saturday evening, the Indian football fans went through a galaxy of such emotions. From the adrenaline rush from Sunil Chhetri's missed header. to the despair and pain of conceding after fighting like warriors on the pitch, the game had it all. 

Let's get into the match. Australia and India kicked off Group B which also has Syria and Uzbekistan. The general consensus before the game was that India would look to avoid a heavy defeat. And why not? Considering the gulf in class and ranking, the difference in the preparations, anything other than a thrashing would have been a win for team India. Why? Because when Australia were busy playing friendlies against England, we were busy with the Indian Super League, or we were "experimenting" against weaker teams. A few wins here and there meant coach Igor Stimac got the all important contract extension. And he had a big job, a job to somehow prepare the team to carve out a result against the mighty Aussies.

Stimac picked Gurpreet in goal. The four man defense consisted of Subhasis Bose, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke and Nikhil Poojary. In the middle of the park were Suresh Singh, Apuia and the debutant from Mohun Bagan, Deepak Tangri. Upfront were Sunil Chhetri along with Chhangte and Manvir Singh on the flanks.

The match was historic even before the ball was kicked off, thanks to the fact that Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita became the first woman to take charge of a men's game at the AFC Asian Cup. The Indian team was well supported, with almost all the fans in the stands cheering for the blue tigers. The match began in predictable fashion. Australia looked to keep the ball and be patient. They were good in their distribution and passed the ball around nicely. India got a good chance as early as in the 3rd minute when an early cross from Chhangte missed both Chhetri and Manvir inside the box. Australia never looked in a hurry, rather they focused on the build up. The moved the ball swiftly, at times too swiftly for the Indian players to react. India had more players behind the ball, rather than infront of it, meaning they were confined to their own half for much of the first half.

Courtesy : IFT / AFC Media

Off the ball India maintained it's shape in a 4-5-1 set up. Sunil was the only player upfront, with everyone focused on defending. And the plan worked well, at least in parts. India counter pressed well, winning back the ball in their own half. But, they didn't know what to do with the ball. At times, there would be no one upfront so the players would just clear the ball. At other times, the players would be in too minds, whether to do a back pass or not. This slight moment of delay was enough for the Aussies to win the ball back. India lost the ball, then pressed and won the ball back, only to loose it again. 

The first half was a mixture of poor finishing from Australia and brilliant defending from the Indian team. The Indians defended like lions, blocking the crosses and clearing any danger that came their way. Sandesh Jhingan was the pick of the lot. A warrior on the pitch, Sandesh got a knock and had to play with a bandage on his head for majority of the game. But that didn't bother him as he put in a brilliant shift and played his role brilliantly. 

As brilliant was the defense of the Indian team, the midfield was equally impressive. Stimac started three defensive midfielders, favoring a solid cover for his defense rather than the creative razzmatazz of Brandon or Mahesh. And the one guy who stole the show was our very own Deepak Tangri. Tangri was brilliant. He was everywhere, like a bull dog in the middle of the pitch. His youthful energy mixed with his solid defending helped team India keep the score line at nil all at half time. Can India really pull this off? A match where we were supposed to be smacked by one of the best teams in Asia, can we actually take a point out of this game? The belief was starting to grow. The Indian fans were hopeful. And then, the second half unfolded.

Australia looked to up the ante from the beginning of the second half. There was a difference in their game, they looked more fluid, more dangerous. And one man was looking even more dangerous. Jackson Irvine. Constantly making runs behind the Indian defenders, creating space, making the runs, he was every where. And no wonder it was him who broke the deadlock. A horror punch from Gurpreet off a cross meant the ball felt right at the feet of the Australian who didn't miss from close range. A horrible way to concede. A feeling of numbness ensued. All the defending, all the blood and sweat, all the hard work, everything undone by a moment of madness. That's Indian football team for you.

Courtesy : IFT / AFC Media

Once we went down, we never really looked like making a comeback. Australia literally toyed with the Indian defenders, with their pace and passing creating enough spaces to trouble our defense. India never pushed for an equalizer, neither did we show any urgency. We were busy keeping the loss down to a solitary goal only. And even there we failed. 

72nd minute. Riley McGree cut inside from the left and layed off a cross for Jordan Bos who made no mistake and rolled the ball in from close range. Not only a goal, but a dagger through the Indian hearts. So much effort, so much hardwork. The points table won't display it. All down the drain. India did make a few attacking changes in the closing stages, bringing on the likes of Liston and Mahesh. But it was too little too late. We defended, and defended, and defended the undefendable till the last minute. At full time, the scoreboard read Australia 2 India 0. In an already tough group, this was not the desired way to begin the campaign. India didn't just loose, we were dominated and the gulf in class showed from the very beginning.

Let's take a look at the five factors which influenced India's loss today.


The substitutions today didn't make any sense. When we already conceded in the 50th minute, why did Stimac wait till the second Australian goal before making substitutions? What was there to loose? Bringing in Mahesh for one of the defensive midfielders, or even Sunil Chhetri could have helped the team. But rather, it were Australia who made the substitutions before India. It was Australia who had more urgency. It was Australia who looked like being 1-0 down. Stimac didn't utilize the subs well, meaning he brought on Mahesh and Vikram only in the 86th minute of the game when everything was already lost.

Courtesy : Jio Cinema / AFC Media


Let me clear one thing, no one, literally no one expected us to beat Australia. Everybody expected a hammering. But, shouldn't a coach who's talked of big things develop some sort of mentality among his players? How long are we going to live with "Oh we played well, we were just unlucky" or "But XYZ are a higher ranked team, we defended well" mentality? Why can't we approach this like any other football match? Why do we consider losing by two goals a good result? Could the result have been worse? Yes, of course. Could we have done anything to reduce the deficit? Probably not. Having the right mentality is not dreaming of beating Australia 5-0, rather it's the force that drives a team to make  comeback after going down. Not even for one moment did we look like making a come back. Rather we were focused on losing by as less as possible. The same thing as 20 years ago. Where's the mentality then?

Courtesy : Jio Cinema / AFC Media


Defensively we were solid. But what about going forward? Well, let's see a few stats first. India had 29% of the ball compared to Australia's 71%. Australia had 28 shots on goal, 6 shots on target. A whopping 22 shots from inside the box. India on the other hand had just 4 shots on goal, with 1 on target. That one was also a weak effort by Suresh Singh. In simple terms, for every seven shots Australia took on the Indian goal, India made only one shot in response. 

Let's make this even simpler. In football it doesn't matter how much possession you have. You can have 90% possession but still lose the game. It's about creating the chances, and converting them. And we didn't do any. We won the ball back because we had a plan for it, but we didn't have any plans of what to do with the ball. The players were confused and hesitant most of the time. The result? A back pass, or a lofted ball upfront or just simply giving possession back to Australia. At one point, it looked like a training drill for Australia, who took shot after shot after shot inside the box. And all we could do was pray and hope that they don't score. Pathetic.


Australia had 14 corners. Yes, 14. And India? None. India should thank the heavens that Australia had a poor day in front of goal, otherwise the score line could have been much more embarrassing. The question here is, didn't the coaching staff plan for this? Everyone knew Australia are dangerous at set pieces, yet we allowed them chance after chance after chance. Granted few set pieces are not avoidable, but some definitely are. Trevor Sinclair must have prepared the boys for this scenario, right? But again, he doesn't have a proven track record as a set piece coach. Then why did we get him just before the Asia Cup? Nobody knows. Just because we weren't punished today doesn't mean we were good. Conceding so many set pieces will get any team punished, let alone India.

Courtesy : Goal India / AFC Media


Some of the tactics today were spot on. Nobody expected Deepak Tangri to start versus this Australian team, yet not only did he just start, he dominated the midfield. A no nonsense performance from Bagan's very own boy. 

But, why didn't we adjust our game according to the situation? When you are already a goal down, is there anything to loose? People will say goal difference. But dear friend, goal difference matters only when you have enough points on the board. If India doesn't have enough points then goal difference won't save us. 

It's as if we don't have a any identity. When we play against SAFF nations, we have a flair to our game. Our passing, our movement, everything is elevated. But, when we are up against any team even remotely higher ranked than us, we go into a shell. We sit back and defend, we win the ball back and put a long pass upfront, praying that Sunil Chhetri might do some magic. Nothing has changed. This was the same thing in the Constantine era, and it's just continuing.

Courtesy : IFT / AFC Media

Don't believe me? Well, India tried both playing out from the back as well as the traditional long goal kick today. Why? Because players are confused. Players are slow and get exhausted if substitutions are not done swiftly. This results in less ground passes and movements, and we go for the long passes, thus loosing possession. Indian players are still slow, but this slowness has got nothing to do with their pace. It's the tenacity and awareness to make a decision, it's the ability to make a pass without taking the extra touch. It's the ability to believe in one's ability and not be put down by the magnitude of the opposition we are up against. Australia has it. Japan has it. South Korea, Iran all have it. We don't. And that's why, we pray against these teams. We go into a shell and attempt to defend for full 90 minutes. The result? We never win, or rather, we never try to win.

This team needs an identity, a definite playstyle, the winning mentality. These experiments and "what if" scenarios need to stop. Indian football fans need to be more demanding. True love and support doesn't come from blind support, rather it's the ability to criticize and accept the flaws, build towards rectifying them which enables a better future for all. All we can do for now is pray for favorable results in the next two games. 


Gurpreet Singh Sandhu - 6/10

Sandesh Jhingan - 8/10

Subhasish Bose - 7/10

Nikhil Poojary - 7/10

Rahul Bheke - 7/10

Apuia - 7/10

Suresh Singh - 6/10

Deepak Tangri - 8/10

Manvir Singh - 6/10

Chhangte - 7/10

Sunil Chhetri - 6/10

Liston Colaco - 7/10

Mahesh Naorem - 6/10

Anirudh Thapa - 6/10

Vikram Pratap Singh - 5/10

Akash Mishra - 6/10

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