Just saw (only the second half) India beat Turkmenistan in last league game of the AFC Challenge Cup '08 at Hyderabad. India are now through to the Semi-Finals having topped their pool and will take on the winner of the Myanmar and North Korea game.
Two second half Baichung Bhutia goals set India on the way to victory and though Turkmenistan got a goal back in the 86th minute, India held on to a deserving victory.
By all accounts, India had dominated the first half and should have had something to show for it but missed some chances to go ahead. They made up for it in the second half though. Chetri laid the ball well for Baichung who managed to get a shot in even as three Turkmenis converged on him and it rolled slowly past the outstretched goalkeeper into goal. The second came through a Renedy Sing corner, which Baichung was allowed to meet on the near post unchallenged and he let his instincts guide the ball into goal.
The pitch was pathetic - muddy slush with a coating of grass. It will be unfair to comment on the quality of play since staying vertical while moving was a player's biggest challenge. Yet, some of the passing and kicking was embarrassing to put it mildly. The fact that India dominated the game completely should not be mistaken for an impressive performance. If anything, the ease with which Turkmenistan scored their goal will be a worrying sign for Bob Houghton about our ability to defend against the long ball. But over ninety minutes, the opposition that India received was feeble and is unlikely to be repeated in the semi-final.
On the positive side, Chetri and Bhutia combined well with Climax Lawrence, Gouramangi Singh and Surkumar Singh all looking impressive. But that was about it. We played with almost no width and barring Climax, the midfield was just making up the numbers. Defending against long balls and set pieces is a definite weakness and there is tremendous scope for improvement in the passing and kicking, which given the basic nature of the issues is a cause for worry.
Winning this tournament is important for it will allow us to compete against the best in Asia, but to a large extent it depends on whether or not our opponents are as bad as us. North Korea is ranked 93rd by FIFA and for us lowly footballing nations, a match against such a nation could turn out to be a little bit of a mismatch.
Let's hope Bob Houghton and his men can pull off some sort of a miracle because if they only pulled off their football moves, it is likely they will fall well short.