India see off Nepal, but leave room for improvement

Jeje Lalpekhlua was India's star performer in a strong second-half performance, providing an assist for Sandesh Jhingan in the 60th minute and then scoring himself in the 78th, as India beat Nepal 2-0 in an international friendly at the Mumbai Football Arena on Tuesday.

The victory maintained India's perfect record in international games in 2017, and will serve as a morale booster ahead of their crucial AFC Asian Cup qualifying match against Kyrgyz Republic in Bengaluru on June 13.

However, there were some aspects of their performance that coach Stephen Constantine would need to work on to rectify in time for next week's match.

A rusty backline

Jhingan may have got India the opening goal, but his partnership at the heart of defence with Anas Edathodika was once again unconvincing, particularly in the first half. Some of it could be put down to the fact that India's last outing was in March, and both have been pairing up with different defenders at their respective clubs since.

With Sunil Chhetri as well as Udanta Singh sitting this match out, India were happy to push most of their players into the rival half of the pitch, but that meant they were always susceptible to well-executed counters. Anas and Jhingan were often caught square, and they only had the relative inexperience of the Nepal strikers to thank for not getting punished.

Midfield lacking in Chhetri's absence

Constantine began with his favoured 4-3-3, and put Rowllin Borges in charge of bossing the midfield, with wingbacks Narayan Das and Pritam Kotal overlapping frequently to support Mohammad Rafique and Jackichand Singh along the respective flanks.

Until the time Eugeneson Lyngdoh replaced Borges in the 29th minute, the Indian midfield was crying out for someone to dictate the pace of the game and win India most of the battles in the middle. Borges was subdued, and neither Hollicharan Narzary nor Jeje, who began the match playing quite deep in a bid to play Robin Singh further up front, were passing the ball with any conviction.

When Chhetri plays, he tends to drop deep and provide leadership both to the players up front as well as those around him. India must look to have someone to play that role in his absence, especially against teams less likely to cede control of midfield.

Robin off the pace

Robin started as the striker, but was way off the boil on the night. When he got through to the ball, he seemed unsure of whether he should go for goal or look to play others in. With Jeje often not venturing in the attacking third, some of his passes just zipped through without any harm done.

There were set-pieces and other crosses looking to utilise his height, but his headers were either feeble or way off the mark. India seemed much better in the second half, when Robin was replaced by Daniel Lalhlimpuia.

If India have to threaten a more physical outfit like the Kyrgyz team, then their tallest player in attack must show greater awareness and take the responsibility of opening up scoring avenues for India.

Chinks in the armour

Though India were full value for their win, there were some nervy moments throughout the game. For instance, the usually composed Gurpreet Sandhu came way out of his line in first-half injury time, and made a meal of a clearance even as Anas looked to deny Nawayug Shrestha, who then missed a virtual open goal.

India had the luxury of six substitutions, all of which were employed by Constantine, and there were also some needless tackles flying around from the Indians in harmless situations.

It's unlikely India will find the running as easy against Kyrgyz Republic at the Kanteerava Stadium, and that is why the team must know what their best eleven would be for the conditions and for the opposition on the night.