Updated: Jun 8, 2018
The Kyrgyz Republic handed out a footballing lesson in Biskek as they beat India 2-1 in the final Asia Cup Qualifier game. Both teams had already qualified for the tournament but Jeje's goal at the end meant that India did had more away goals in the head-to-head equation between the two sides and finished top of the group.
Here's the match report from the game.
Jeje had the best chance of the game and put it away but the Kyrgyz Republic rightly players dominate the top player charts. They also dominated the entire game as seen in the Expected Goals (xG Plot) race. It took the Indian national team 20 minutes to wake up and register themselves in the race.
So how did Kyrgyzstan outplay the Indians? Gegenpressing. Yup, you heard that right. A national team Gegenpressed with incredibly high efficiency. With a #7 playing CB and #9 at DM, they were never really going to be conventional, were they?
For those that don't know, Gegenpressing, is a risky football tactic where a team commits players high up the pitch and tries to win the ball back from the opponents in their own half of the pitch. It's an aggressive strategy and only seen at International level from nations with an elite "football heritage". Spain & Germany come to mind but nations like Chile have also used the tactic to great effect. It requires incredible stamina as well as footballing knowledge, as you shall see.
So how does a team from Kyrgyzstan start pressing like maniacs? 5 out of their 11 starters (and 14 in the squad) play for FC Dordoi Biskek. Incidentally, Aleksar Krestinin is manager of both FC Dordoi and the Kyrgyz national team. It's incredibly beneficial for an international manager to get to work with his players throughout the year, especially if the intention is to Gegenpress.
India, on the other hand, defend like it's 2003 - in straight lines. Any player that receives the ball on the right side of that yellow line, will have space to run at a defender. Good players, like the ones Kyrgyz had today, will exploit those spaces.
Here's another example of how the Kyrgyz Republic forced India to break shape and just walked through the midfield.
Rafique has to leave his position (circled in red) and move out to press Musabekov(?), This creates the space for Zemlianukhin to drift into (you can already see him asking for it) from the left wing. Musabekov then plays the pass along the green line. And Zemlianukhin is free to turn and run at the defense. He can make a pass out wide (along the green lines below) and get in the box to to wait for a cross or run at the defence by himself.
So now that we've gone over how easy it was for them to score a goal, let's look at how they stifled the Indians. Hint: It's all about shutting passing lanes. Each of the following pictures tells a story of how the Kyrgyz players all work together, in complete coordination, to win the ball back. It's like a hive mind. A hive mind built from hours on the training pitch.
The picture pretty much sums up what's happening. #12, Otkeyev, is the right full back not the left. His job is to slow Narzary down just long enough for a team mate to join and swarm the ball. Once the team mate joins, Otkeyev, moves back into his role to cover the out ball. In this instance, the safest option for Narzary is to pass the ball to Narayan Das. But that option is susceptible to the press too, as seen via the yellow lines. Also, note the back up presser who is covering Borges. He will be a key player in the next action.
In the next action, Narzary beats one player and the back up presser is also pulled towards the ball and beaten. This leaves a short pass to Borges open. Narzary somehow gets the ball to him. You can also see the fullback abandon the press and go back to cut the lanes.
Kairat's pressing along the bendy yellow line means, that Rowlin needs to take his eyes off the ball to find a pass. This leads to a poor touch and Kairat is on him in a flash, wins the ball and starts a counter attack before India have even built an attack.
That whole Indian attack lasted 4 seconds. And in the final picture you can even see that had Kairat gotten beaten, all of Borges' passing lanes were cut out. Pressing at it's finest.
Out of options and down an early goal, India spent the entire match hitting long early balls, hoping to reach Jeje or Balwant. On an other day, that might have worked but after the early goal, India needed a calm cool head in the middle of the park. Rowlin Borges tried hard and Anirudh Thapa got 10 minutes at the end but India were never in the game. Maybe with Vinit Rai at the base of the midfield and Thapa creating slightly higher up, India might have had the necessary composure in the middle of the park. Hard work up ahead.
Bonus, Kyrgyz Republic chance creation maps!