Tactics in the Trash! India draw against Afghanistan's second team | Post Match Analysis

Afghanistan 0-0 India | FIFA WC Qualifiers | Post Match Analysis

Courtesy: AIFF Media

It might be a team ranked 158th, suffering from a boycott of their best squad of eighteen players, wounded from conceding 8 and 4 goals from Qatar and Kuwait respectively, but there is indeed something in that oozing Afghan blood that all the noise, embarrassments and controversies vanished when they entered the pitch.

The only objective was to not let their heads down. And lay their lives on the pitch, which is what they exactly did. Afghanistan might not have much chances of moving forward but that never translated to have a demoralised or casual approach. They were awake, aware and displayed incredible tactical acumen and ensured that they had an answer to each and every question raised by their opponent.

India, in typical Igor Stimac fashion, made themselves believe that the central areas of the pitch are made of lava thus stepping into that region would turn them into ashes. As for Afghanistan, a good old compact flat 4-4-2 was more than good enough to overload the flanks which India made their residence throughout the 90. 

Afghanistan's 4-4-2 flat structure (Courtesy: FanCode livestream)

In the 4th minute, a cross from the right came towards Lalrinzuala Chhangte who couldn’t win the header. For the next few minutes, the game was either chaotic or saw India moving the ball across the backline, followed by a long ball to the flanks, which either couldn’t get trapped down properly or got skied past the throw line.

The rare event in which such lobbed passes were accurate, the crowd of 3 to 4 men established by Afghanistan made their counterparts panic and lose possession. In the meantime, in the 11th minute, a good combination play by Skandari, Sharza and Nazary generated a positive chance for Afghans but they lost the ball before finding space for a shot.

Nikhil Poojary had a commendable game individually. His presence in timely track backs was crucial in blocking off and slowing down the cheeky Afghan movements down the wings by Ahadi and Skandari. Also Poojary sent in some promising crosses from the right but none of them could be converted to a chance.

Courtesy: AIFF Media

On the other hand, Manvir Singh had a day to forget. In the 16th minute, a pin point cross from the left left him with the biggest chance of the match. With no defenders around, a simple directioning would have pushed the ball to the net, but that directioning only put the ball wide.

Manvir did drop down a lot to cover for an aggressive Poojary and wanted to exploit the half spaces and the gap between the RCB and RB. He did show good hold up play, but couldn’t generate any chances. Ashley Westwood’s Afghanistan had a properly organised low block. No one ventured away from their positions unnecessarily, more so because India didn’t even try attacking centrally.

Afghanistan did show some variation in their set pieces to better their starting position for a cross but Anwar and Bheke were mostly dependable throughout the 90. In front of them stood Jeakson, who was totally invisible and Apuia, who mostly indulged in lateral distributions. When observing him in his club where he attempts considerably more central progressions, it is obvious to say such morose playmaking was only him following instruction.

India's structure with Poojary on the touchline, Manvir occupying halfspace, Vikram as primary and Sunil as secondary striker (Courtesy: FanCode livestream)

Regarding India’s formation otherwise, Sunil Chettri occupied a much deeper role, but not that of an attacking mid, rather a late runner and second striker of sorts to Vikram Pratap Singh, a never before seen approach by Stimac which was curiously ‘predicted’ much before the match. But who will provide them the balls? Sahal? Hamstring injury. Brandon? Unfit for full 90.

Now the Afghan CB pairing of Captain Amiri and Mukhammad stand 177 and 184 cm tall respectively, meanwhile the Indian strikers for the day Vikram and Sunil peak at 169 and 170 cms, nor do they have the physique to make up for it. Thus it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to understand what an incredibly terrible piece of tactic it was to spam long balls throughout the 90 from the wings. Of course, Afghanistan laughed off every Indian attack.

On the 29th minute, an accurate long ball from Apuia to Chhangte didn’t yield much as Afghan RB Hanifi promptly intervened which led to a dangerous counter for Afghanistan. Nazary and Akbari didn’t enjoy the ball much but whenever they did, they tried to keep it, draw some opposition players out of position and find space towards the wingers, which was a lot more productive than just passing the ball around in the defensive line and maybe boast about it post match. 

Chance generated by Afghanistan on the counter (Courtesy: FanCode livestream)

India got increasingly frustrated as the first half was closing, leading to rushed decisions by the players which easily could have led to a much more dangerous chance. A good interception by Apuia took the Afghanis completely off guard who were accelerating towards the Indian defense. However, instead of finding a striker or a winger, Apuia decided to take a slow long lobbed shot which even a schoolboy goalkeeper would catch with eyes closed.

Post lemon break, the dozy Indian fans which continued watching the catastrophic stream, both in terms of playing and broadcast quality, would see a good piece of dribbling by Manvir in the 49th minute and a lob towards Vikram who couldn’t trap it and got swept by Afghan keeper Azizi.

Then started coming the incoordination. In the 53rd minute, Akash Mishra couldn’t receive a simple  pass and let it go out for a throw. Three minutes later, Akash misunderstood Anwar Ali’s position and gave away a corner for Afghanistan! What an embarrassing way that could have been to concede from.

Big chance for Popalzay (Courtesy: FanCode livestream)

A clueless Stimac finally brought on Brandon at the 60th minute mark instead of Vikram and Mishra was subbed out for Subhashish Bose. Bose was rusty at first. A mispositioning led to a curved pass going behind him towards Sharza who passed it on towards Popalzay.

It was the biggest chance for the Afghans for the match but a physical pressure from Rahul Bheke meant Popalzay couldn’t capture the ball properly and somehow that didn’t lead to a goal. However, as Bose settled in he put in some good blocks, tackles and interceptions to stop some promising Afghan attacks.

India got a good chance from the right in the 67th minute as Manvir Singh made a clumsy cut back which got kicked away. Six minutes later, Poojary made another wayward cross leading to nowhere. Afghanistan’s left back Askar with the defensive support of Nazary was crucial in stopping multiple threats from the Indians.

Courtesy: AIFF Media

Liston, Mahesh and Deepak were eventually brought in for Chhangte, Manvir and Apuia. Liston made two good accelerations with one fine cut back in the 85th but there was no one to receive it. The last few minutes became a competition of which team and kick the ball for a longer length. Everyone just started praying to their respective Gods hoping something would magically happen and themselves did nothing constructive, except for an odd corner from which Subhashish came quite close.

Afghanistan can be pardoned for a lackluster performances given their situation, which is described in much more detail in our match preview. As for their opponent, maybe they were more interested in ensuring that they don’t get injured given the business end of the ISL is nearing. There was an uncomforting hesitation, a certain restrictiveness going into in every duel, especially by the midfielders and forwards, who stood no chance in front of the brave hearted lions in bright red attire.

Yes, ofcourse, the blame will be shifted to lack of months long preparation camps, lack of OCIs, lack of grassroots development and what not. The blame game will begin, fingers will be pointed here and there, and no one will take responsibility for such depressive performances. Only if I was in the Post Match Conference, I would have asked which team in the world could this current squad was confident in defeating. Maybe there is a lot more delusion such confidence. The reverse fixture against the Afghans in this Second round of FIFA WC Qualifiers take place in 4 days at Guwahati. 

Indian player's Match Ratings by MBFT:

Gurpreet: 6.5/10
Akash: 6/10
Anwar: 6.5/10
Bheke: 6/10
Poojary: 6/10
Jeakson: 6/10
Apuia: 6.5/10
Chhangte: 6/10
Manvir: 5.5/10
Chhetri: 5.5/10
Vikram: 6/10

Brandon: 6/10
Subhasish: 6/10
Deepak: 6/10
Mahesh: 6/10
Liston: 6.5/10

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