India vs St. Kitts and Nevis - India win Tri-Nations Cup but questions still remain

Tri Nations Cup champions
After capturing the title with a 1-1 draw against St. Kitts and Nevis, Goal looks at the key aspects of India's campaign....

India lifted the Tri-Nations Cup in the Mumbai Football arena on Thursday night but for Stephen Constantine, the focus would already have shifted to the upcoming crucial 2019 AFC Cup qualifier away to Macau on 5th September.

While winning a multi-team competition is always a boost for any side, the Blue Tigers will know they have their work cut out when the real test begins come September. The win against Mauritius and the draw with St. Kitts and Nevis will give Stephen Constantine plenty to think about when it comes to naming the squad for the upcoming qualifier.

On Thursday, winger Jackichand Singh’s second international goal for India put the hosts ahead on Thursday before G'Vaune Amory equalized for the visitors late in the second half to share the spoils.

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The Tri-Nations Cup provided Constantine the perfect ruse to test the squad strength and what can the experienced coach take away from India’s performances?

Quite a few of the Blue Tigers looked a bit off the pace in Thursday’s encounter and with September just around the corner, there will be some concerns among the team management. The rustiness amongst the squad though can be attributed to most of the players having come off their summer breaks straight into the national team.

The lack of proper pre-season training could have played its part in the sluggishness displayed against St. Kitts & Nevis and Mauritius, and Constantine will be hoping that the players pick up their fitness before the game against Macau.

However, he should be very pleased with Rowllin Borges' performance over the two games as he displayed a sense of calm in the middle of the pitch, cleaning up tackles and initiating attacks with aplomb. After a beautiful assist for Robin Singh in the Mauritius encounter, he followed it up with another on Thursday, providing a sumptuous cross for Jackichand to put India ahead. That the team lost its shape and organization after his departure emphasizes the importance of the midfield engine in Constantine’s plans.

His partner Eugeneson Lyngdoh also showed much better application on Thursday than he did in the opening match but was still found lacking on numerous occasions. There were quite a few wayward balls and there were times when he was easily dispossessed. The midfielder will have to up his game if he is to remain a vital cog in the midfield.

One positive in India’s campaign in the tournament has been the introduction of youngsters into the squad and the likes of Nikhil Poojary, Mohammad Rafique and Anrirudh Thapa all got some important minutes on the pitch against the visitors. However, while they did bring a sense of urgency and pace into the attack, their decision making in the final-third left a lot to be desired.

It will be interesting if Constantine will use them in the qualifier given what is at stake as the youngsters clearly showed that they need some more time to stake a claim for the starting spots.

With the Bengaluru FC squad members missing the tournament due to their involvement in the AFC Cup, Subrata Paul was once again picked to start in goal for India on Thursday. The 30-year-old was shaky and unimpressive in a patchy performance which throws the question of who is India’s number two into the spotlight.  Vishal Kaith was not used from the bench and it does seem like Constantine plans to keep Paul as Gurpreet Singh’s deputy for the Macau encounter.

While the rustiness and sluggishness of the players showed, Constantine can be happy with the workout against the two opponents in the tournament. Though Robin Singh looked off colour against St. Kitts and Nevis, the energy and dynamism which Balwant Singh brought to the fore in both games gives India a viable backup for Sunil Chhetri & Jeje Lalpekhlua for the crunch games.

The defensive unit of Narayan Das, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Kotal got an extended run in both the games which should hold the team in good stead. Wingers Halicharan Narzary and Jackichand Singh got plenty of minutes too though they will be expected to drive down the flanks a bit more than what they showed.

In the end, despite not stealing headlines with their play in the tournament, the Blue Tigers will be happy with getting the 180 minutes under their belt and provide Constantine with some questions which will need to be answered before 5th September.