Upswing for India's GenNext

Defence has put up credible show

Upswing for India's GenNext

It was their skipper Sunil Chhetri who was once again the game changer for India at the Sree Kanteerava stadium on Tuesday as they saw off a gutsy Kyrgyzstan challenge in their Asian Cup qualifier.

Though words aren’t be enough to describe the importance and influence that the poster boy of Indian football has on this setup, the Kyrgyz tie showed glimpses of what this young Indian team is slowly turning into.

The Indian eleven that turned up on Tuesday has an average age of 21. And if Chhetri is to be excluded, their combined international experience in just 170 matches. However, this hasn’t seem to affect their recent results.

Since 2016, India has played 11 games, winning nine of them. Moreover, they have conceded just 11 goals, keeping five clean sheets. The credit for the same should go to the Indian defence line led by a fearless Sandesh Jhingan.

“I was 21 when I made my international debut (in 2015),” says Jhingan. “Coach (Stephen Constantine) had just come and things weren’t going to be easy. But he was patient and now we are enjoying the fruits of our hard work.”

Over the past three years, Jhingan has gone on to become a central figure for India. Though he showed his calibre in the home tie against Iran in the FIFA World Cup qualifier in 2015, it’s recently that he has emerged as the rock around which India’s backline is built.

On Tuesday, too, Jhingan was the focal point as he, along with Anas Edathodika, helped maintain a steady defence and stopped the Kyrgyz from having a direct go at the goal.

“Even today there were a few lapses in the defence,” he says. “I was too early into a tackle, Anas a little slow to get to his marker and so on. But the overall picture looks good because we were quick to fill in for the guy who went wrong. These are things you learn as you play more games,” Jhingan states pointing out instances from Tuesday’s tie.

While Jhingan has cemented his place in the backline, behind him it’s the only Indian plying his trade in a foreign league, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who has swiftly replaced Subrata Paul as the first choice goalkeeper.

Sandhu commands his penalty area with authority, is confident of collecting crosses in the air and often ventures out to help his side, a trait that is seldom seen in India.

“I have learned it in Norway,” says Sandhu. “The goalkeeper is not just someone who should just save the shots in the box. You need to help your team in any way possible. If you have to come out of the box, you have to. You have to be in the game and on the offence all the time. If I don’t come out in these situations, it’s an easy chance (for opponents),” he explains.

With the kind of performances that the side has showcased of late, one thing is for certain; if we continue the hard work, one day we can have a football team that can challenge the best in Asia, if not the world.

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