Attack in mind, defence worries India against Afghanistan

Source: AIFF

In Abha, the capital city of Aseer Province near the Red Sea in south-west Saudi Arabia, the Blue Tigers are preparing diligently for the away leg fixture of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Afghanistan, scheduled to take place on March 22.

Under chief coach Igor Stimac, one crucial aspect of their training regime must be confronting the challenges of playing at 2470 metres above sea level. Additionally, they must contend with the absence of chief defender Sandesh Jhingan. Stimac has to field a new center-back pairing against the Lions of Khorasan.

Defence has bothered India of late. With Anwar Ali returning after a long injury layoff, Stimac may find some relief, but Anwar has struggled to regain form post-recovery, while playing for Mohun Bagan Super Giants in the ISL. Although he is likely to feature in the starting XI, it remains to be seen who partners Anwar in central defence.

Since the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers in 2022, Jhingan and Anwar have shouldered defensive responsibilities. The duo has kept 10 clean sheets. After Anwar’s injury, Rahul Bheke took his place. Though his performances against Kuwait and Qatar in the World Cup Qualifiers were decent, his AFC Asian Cup display in January raised questions. It was India’s worst defensive showing in recent memory. Sloppy work and lack of communication among defenders resulted in six goals in three games without a reply.

Also Read: Sandesh Jhingan hopes to be back for Kuwait qualifier in June

Against Afghanistan, Subhasish Bose might pair up with Anwar. Bose has earned Stimac’s trust after a stellar performance in the AFC Asian Cup group stage fixture against Syria, playing as center-back alongside Jhingan. Furthermore, the versatile defender has done consistently well for Mohun Bagan in the ISL.

Under the guidance of Antonio Habas at Mohun Bagan, Bose plays as a left-sided centre-back in a backline of three. While he has played mostly as a left-back in 4-4-2 formations, he has impressed in his new role. Additionally, his understanding with Anwar, who plays for the same club, bodes well for the Blue Tigers.


Source: AIFF

The Indian team has only two recognised center-backs in the squad in Mehtab Singh and Anwar. Bheke and Bose are primarily seen as full-backs. It will also be interesting to see whether the two new entrants, Amey Ranawade and Jay Gupta, both full-backs, make it to the team sheet. With the left-back position likely to be secured by Akash Mishra, one of the most consistent full-backs in India, Gupta has to work hard to earn playing time in his first national team call-up.

While Nikhil Poojary has cemented his place as right-back, his recent form has been ordinary. Ranawade’s impressive showing for Odisha FC becomes significant under the circumstances. With six full-backs and 10 midfielders in the squad, it’s evident that Sunil Chhetri & Co. will adopt an attacking approach against Afghanistan.

In Group A of the World Cup Qualifiers, Qatar lead the table, followed by Kuwait. India are third on goal difference. India have two more games against Kuwait and Qatar, after the double-header against Afghanistan. Stimac’s boys will aim for six points against Afghanistan to secure the second spot in the group and progress to the third round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for the first time.

Also Read: Ranawade, Gupta and Imran rewarded for strong ISL showings

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