Despite Sunil Chhetri climbing the Indian Football's Hall of Fame ladder by equalling former captain Bhaichung Bhutia's record of most appearances for the national team with his 107th cap, all was not good for the entire team including the head coach, Stephen Constantine, as India exited from the 2019 AFC Asian Cup after a 0-1 defeat to Bahrain on 14th January 2019.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Goal India (@goal_india) on Jan 14, 2019 at 11:48am PST
The loss hurts a little more due to the fact that the Indian team was on a roll during the tournament and despite the loss to UAE a couple of days ago, they were looking to qualify for the knockouts for the first time since the format was introduced.
After an almost uneventful match between the two Group-A teams, an extremely unfortunate penalty in the 89th minute booked the win for Bahrain and fated India's elimination from the Asian Cup.
To make things worse for the team on an emotional level, they heard the news that Stephen Constantine had given in his papers and resigned from the position of India's head coach after the match.
Apparently, not a single member of the team was aware of Constantine's decision before the match and only got to know about it through the media.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Goal India (@goal_india) on Jan 14, 2019 at 1:35pm PST
“He did really well for the country. If you see the records, the number of boys he has given chances. I just want to thank him from me and the... boys for doing a great job and just hope wherever he goes, wish him all the luck,” Chhetri said, as reported by goal.com.
However, Chhetri said a lot more than that. Criticising his team's way of playing the captain said: “Although we did defend well, we defended too much. We should have kept the ball more. Sometimes when you just need a draw, this is what happens.”
Chhetri then also complained about the defence letting “every cross to come in” which led to desperation and the frustration led to them giving away the penalty in the worst time possible.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Goal India (@goal_india) on Jan 14, 2019 at 1:42pm PST
But is Chhetri's argument really justified? Let the stats do the talking. Team India has never been one to keep the possession for long. While in the match against Bahrain, India's possession calculated for 39%, and it was far less during the two of the better games the squad had played previously (vs Thailand - 34%, vs UAE - 34%). While the number passes and pass accuracy remained more or less the same.
What was substantially different in this game was the lack of attack on the opposition's net as Chhetri and his boys were only able to take 3 shots (all of which were off target) as compared to Thailand when India shot 15 times and UAE, 9 times.
While all said and done, Chhetri's argument seems to be accurate only when put under a scope of loss and defeat. What remains true is that yesterday, there lacked the motivation and energy which the team commanded during the first two games.
We can put the blame on fatigue or even the players' mental inability to manage the pressure of the game, but in reality, the Indian football team will have to wait for another year for history to be made.