x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE are physically superior to Indian counterparts

The UAE football team are the physically superior side, but India is playing with renewed enthusiasm and an anything-can-happen attitude after its victory over Qatar.

You have to go back 30 years to 1981 for India's first win against the UAE, and a decade to their only other, when Jules Alberto's goal caused a big upset in Bangalore in a World Cup qualifier. Then, too, an Indian coach, Sukhwinder Singh, was in charge of the national side.

Armando Colaco, the current coach, came into the job on the back of unprecedented success at the club level with Dempo, who have been Indian champions four times in 10 years. His first task was to alter the playing style. Under Bob Houghton and his predecessor, Stephen Constantine, India tended to play quite direct, with the long ball often employed despite diminutive forwards.

At the Asian Cup in January, India were all over the place, tactically. They defended stoically for one half against Australia, but when the game opened up they conceded four goals. Against a Bahrain side with pace, they looked like conceding each time the ball neared the box. They scored twice, but the midfield went the way of sand confronted by a strong wave. Colaco has given the captain's armband to Climax Lawrence. The Asian Cup exposed his limitations as a box-to-box midfielder. Under Colaco, the emphasis was on keeping the ball and passing it well.

Physically, India are no match for the UAE, and Lawrence will need to draw on his experience to close down space and create chances for Sunil Chhetri. The UAE were careless at the back against Lebanon, but if India are to get anything on the counter-attack they'll need to combine the Colaco way with the direct Houghton method.