‘Lesson learned in a hard way’ – Igor Stimac’s India simply no match for exceptional UAE

It was a night to forget yet a great learning experience for Igor Stimac’s boys…

India will head home from Dubai with contrasting experiences from their two friendly matches which they played against Oman and UAE on March 25 and March 29 respectively.

While against Oman, the Blue Tigers showed character and fought valiantly to hold them to a 1-1 draw, against UAE they received a harsh reality check as they suffered a thrashing 6-0 defeat at the hands of the hosts.

Coach Igor Stimac, as expected, had made eight changes in the starting lineup against UAE as only Akash Mishra, Suresh Wangjam and Manvir Singh were retained from the team which played against Oman.

Right from the off, India were simply no match for UAE as Bert van Marwijk’s side looked superior in every department, whether it be physical strength or technicality. Stimac once again fielded the team in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Anirudh Thapa operating in the hole behind number nine Manvir Singh.

Liston Colaco, UAE vs India

The UAE attackers simply toyed with the Indian defenders and India’s strategy of playing a high-line defence with slow centre-backs helped their cause. Mashoor Shereef partnered Adil Khan at the heart of the backline and while the NorthEast United defender made his debut against Oman he had only come out on the pitch in the injury time. Shereef’s inexperience and Adil’s rustiness at the back hurt India’s cause and the communication gap between the two was evident. 

The Croatian coach made quite a few changes in the second half in hope of turning things around a bit but UAE further held India by the scruff of their neck and score four more goals in the second 45 minutes.

In fact, he had gone on the attack, removing Lalengmawia and sending in striker Ishan Pandita.

After the Oman game, Stimac had mentioned that he was unhappy with his team’s first half performance as they could control the game at the centre of the park and lost possession very easily. The performance against UAE showed that India did not learn their lesson as they could not string more than three passes throughout the game.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Ali Mabkhout, UAE vs India

In the end, it was just a friendly match and Stimac was out there to experiment with a new batch of young players. The experience of playing against top teams for the youngsters was more important than the result and that is something the players got from this tour. But conceding 6 goals was still a bitter pill to swallow for Stimac’s boys.

Before the friendly matches, the coach had mentioned that without playing against quality oppositions, the team will never learn and improve. Thus, the experience of playing against teams like Oman and UAE will give the young Indian players a fair idea of how challenging the international arena is compared to playing matches against weaker opponents. 

One thing Stimac would have learnt from this match is that he must handle youth and experience in a careful manner in his team selection for the future, with most of them lacking the composure to bring a semblance of calm to the proceedings.

The important thing now is that the Indian players build on this experience and instead of getting demoralised, they must come back stronger in June when they face Asian giants Qatar in the World Cup qualifiers and give a strong account of themselves.

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