In the run-up to AFC 2019, to state the obvious, this meant more than a friend. For Praful Patel, Stephen Constantine, Indian football team, Blue Pilgrim, Indian sports enthusiast know, this is going to be the first battle in the impending war. India took on the Chinese at Suzhou City Centre Olympic Stadium in Suzhou City. This was the first team that the Indian senior team played in the home of ‘red dragons’.
On the back of the match, Stephen Constantine made a plethora of cliché comments.
- It’s friendly for the world, not for us,
- Defenders will have a big role to play for us.
- When you are playing for India, you have to take it seriously irrespective of whatever game you play.
- You are representing 1.4 billion people out there and I can’t tell you how important the game is for us.
- We are not going there to lose.
A lot more like this. Constantine doesn’t like changing things. Cue long-ball game. Cue pre-match comments. India has dealt a massive blow day before the fixture when it was announced that Balwant Singh would be unavailable because of Visa issues. China, however, comes on the back of an ambiguous form. If India faced the likes of Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, Kenya in their international outings, China has faced the likes of Serbia and Columbia in the recent past. Although, China’s win percentage is something to talk about.
A few hours before the fixture, in an announcement which surprised everyone, Constantine named Sandesh Jhingan as the captain. Indian footballer Sandesh Jhingan has a name for himself in the Kerala Blasters folklore to lead from the front whenever the chips are down. Also, if there is one footballer in India, who is actually buoyed by captaincy is Sunil Chhetri. Much like Constantine’s decisions over the last few years, this sure raised more than a few eyebrows.
India XI — Singh (GK); Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan (C), Bose, Das; Halder, Thapa; Udanta, Chhetri, Narzary; Jeje.
China XI – Yan Junling; Wang Tong, Yu Yang, Feng Xiaoting, Li Xuepeng; Wu Xi, Zhao Xuri, Jin Jindao; Gao Lin, Yu Dabao, Wu Lei.
Dropping Anas to bench came as a big surprise who is known to be Jhingan’s unofficial partner both for the club and country. Vinit Rai, Salam Ranjan Singh, Anas Edathodika, Ashique Kuruniyan were few of the prominent names to be on the bench.
China started on the front foot in the match and was a constant threat down the flanks. Jhingan, on a couple of occasions, showed why he is India’s best defender. In the 13th minute, a silky move set up Pritam Kotal on the right whose shot was saved by the Chinese keeper. The Chinese continued to press forward with Thapa, Halder conceding far too many balls in the midfield. China, still, having failed to convert any opportunities.
In the 23rd minute, after a couple of regulation saves from the Indian footballer Gurpreet, he got down to save a powerful shot from the left. Anant Tyagi, quipped on air, “He’s certainly proved a few detractors wrong there.” He certainly did and the scoreline still stood 0-0.
Holicharan Narzary pulled off a few successful tackles in the first 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, India was disciplined at the back and putting their bodies in line to thwart any attempt from the Chinese. Lippi’s men were playing out from the back and constantly threatening the visitors. Anirudh Thapa- Narayan Das camaraderie was working really well. A sight to expect for years to come.
Sandesh Jhingan successfully, albeit a few fouls and Jhingan-like tackles, held the big man Yu Dabao throughout the first half. For once, a team playing against Constantine’s team were the ones who looked as clueless as ever. As far as India was concerned, Jeje and Chhetri barely had any part to play in the first half except for the one shot from Chhetri in the 18th minute. Udanta got in the pink of action a couple of times only to be held back by the Chinese defense.
The two center-backs Sandesh and Subhashish were rock solid at the back and largely responsible for the scoreline to still stand 0-0. Indian footballer Gurpreet made few saves and punches and his distribution was at his very best to remind everyone back home why he’s India’s number 1.
China had their first big chance in the 50th minute when Gao Lin hit the woodwork from a low driven cross. Indian footballer Gurpreet was nowhere close to the ball and had it been hit a little low, it would have certainly changed things for Lippi’s men. 2 minutes later, Gao Lin again had a shot on target saved by Gurpreet. Chinese looked all set to change the scoreline before Narzary successfully tackled in the Chinese half to feed it to Udanta in the right only for ‘The Flash’ to shoot it way above the mark.
After two-thirds of the game, Constantine made his first change by bringing in Anas in place of Narayan Das and Nikhil Poojary came in for Udanta. The dragons looked good from the set pieces but failed to find a good touch in the box. Gao Lin had a free kick from a promising position but he shot it way above the goal. In the 70th minute gain, India was saved by the blushes when Wu Lei rattled the crossbar.
India lived to fight another 20 minutes. In the 75th minute again, Gurpreet made an excellent save off an excellent header. A game of pinball followed in the box with everyone down to the ground with China failing to get the ball inside the goal-line and India survived again. On the other end, Jhingan missed a vital chance to take the lead. His header from an Anirudh Thapa corner missed the goal by some distance.
The 5-minute stoppage time wasn’t short of action as well. Farukh had a shot saved in the 94th minutes by the Chinese Number 1. Like the whole match, the last minute was a Gurpreet show with the big man making 2 more crucial saves.
After 90 minutes and stoppage time, it ended China 0-0 India.
China had their moments who, if not for the crossbar should have come out on the top. Indian football team can take heart from this performance. The back-line was at their best and the young midfield showed it had the brawns to put on a mighty performance. Every Indian football fan can rest assured knowing that our goal is guarded by their Indian footballer Gurpreet. Gurpreet can rest assured that he is accompanied by a solid backline. If the frontline gets their act together, it is all upwards and onwards for the Indian National Football Team.
Until then, it is Inquilab-E-Indian-Football.