India and St Kitts & Nevis settled for a 1-1 draw at the Mumbai Football arena on Thursday as the home side won the Tri-Nation Series title. India finished the tournament with four points, ahead of St Kitts & Nevis (two) and Mauritius (one).
Gvaune Amory's corner conversion in the 71st minute cancelled out Jackichand Singh's 39th-minute strike, snapping a sequence of nine consecutive wins for India, which includes an unofficial friendly against Bhutan.
The silken skills of Rowllin
If there is one player who is growing in stature under Constantine, it is Rowllin Borges, who was again the best player for India on Thursday.
It wasn't just that he created the goal with a perfectly weighted cross that was nodded in by Jackichand, but also the work rate from him that gives this Indian team an added edge. Eugeneson Lyngdoh did not do much over the two matches, other than a smart pass that set up Balwant Singh's winner against Mauritius, but Rowllin's ability to change gears in the middle meant he didn't always need to.
India lack match fitness
Against the Caribbean opponents, just like the Mauritius game, the Indian team looked a little half-cooked, particularly in the first half of both games.
After a hectic domestic season, the only competitive football the national team got was by the middle of June. The past two months have been a quieter period for most members of the squad and that showed.
With four debuts across the two matches, Stephen Constantine tried out plenty of combinations and playing styles in the lead-up to a critical AFC Asian Cup qualifying match on September 5 away to Macau. The fact that they have just played two teams ranked well below India's 97 should not matter and the coach should be satisfied with the game time his squad got.
The defence continues to look brittle
Through the good form in recent months, the Indian defence has always looked uncertain. The central defensive partnership of Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan, the latter getting to wear the captain's armband in the Tri-Nation Series for the first time, has not had a lot of time together. That has led to some gaps in communication between them and the goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who replaced Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in this tournament.
Both full-backs, Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das, look good when India are on the move forward, but sometimes leave spaces vacant at the back for the opposition to exploit. All nations in 2017 have exploited this weakness to different extents -- stretching the defence apart on occasion -- and these are areas that better teams will not leave unpunished.
The big boys will return for Macau
The two matches in Mumbai were both valuable match practice for the Indian team, as well as an audition for parts left vacant by the AFC Cup bound Bengaluru FC trio of Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Gurpreet.
All three should automatically slot back into the starting lineup against Macau. That means the likes of Robin Singh and Balwant Singh, both of whom played consistently in both friendlies will compete for one spot, if at all.
Holicharan Narzary and Jackichand may also have to fight for one slot on the flanks, and the latter could have tipped it in his favour with his goal. Nikhil Poojary, though, has emerged as a genuine contender for a place in the midfield -- he has pace, skills and is always willing to take on opposition players in one-on-one situations.
There are some holes to be plugged, but the competition for places is a welcome headache for Constantine to have ahead of the Macau trip.