If it wasn’t evident so far, it’s apparent now — in the Wim Koevermans-era every decision is based on logic, and if the plans are executed it is stated matter-of-factly. The Dutchman’s inspired second-half change, bringing on debutant striker Robin Singh for wide midfielder Sanju Pradhan and tweaking the formation from 4-2-3-1 to a more direct 4-4-2, galvanised India to a 3-0 win against the Maldives in a Nehru Cup match at the JLN Stadium on Saturday.
India started slowly and looked disjointed in the opening 30 minutes. Holding midfielder Lenny Rodrigues in particular had a horrible first-half giving away the ball cheaply on a few occasions and spraying errant passes. Sunil Chhetri was the lone bright spot with brilliant hold-up play.
Things could have been worse had Maldives striker Asfaq Ali converted in the 26th minute after being put through. Unmarked, Ali’s strike though was superbly thwarted by goalie Subrata Pal. The close shave served as a wake-up call and India started making more forays into the Maldives box. Like in the first match, a first-half stoppage-time Chhetri goal put India ahead. Left-back Syed Rahim Nabi’s cross hit the trailing hand of Mohammad Sifan. The referee pointed to the spot. India’s captain stepped up and calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.
In the second-half, Robin gave India a more physical presence and played more central than Francisco Fernandes who switched to the right-flank. India doubled the advantage when Nabi thundered home a Clifford Miranda corner-kick in the 53rd minute. The match was put beyond doubt in the 70th minute when Chhetri adroitly headed in a teasing Francisco cross from the right flank.