Lobbing them long: Throw-ins become effective goal-scoring tool in ISL

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It is remarkable how throw-ins in the Indian Super League (ISL) are an absolute attacking option rather than simply a tool to restart a match.

A case in point is Bengaluru’s draw against Jamshedpur on Saturday, which was notable for more reasons than one. Firstly, because of Parag Shrivas’s long throw: from the right touchline, the defender unleashed a massive throw that traveled nearly 20 yards to find teammate Pratik Chaudhari’s head in a packed area that had seven players from Jamshedpur, including the doorman.

Equally amazing was Sunil Chhetri’s run, which almost went unnoticed from Jamshedpur’s point of view. The league’s all-time top scorer, with 49 goals, wasn’t even in the picture when Shrivas took the throw-in. Chhetri instead positioned himself outside the area, and while the ball was in full flight, true to his sneaky instincts, he ran towards the goal area. So when Chaudhari made a slight movement with the ball, which then bounced off Bruno Ramires, Chhetri was present in the right position to touch it, thus setting the stage for Bengaluru’s 3-1 win, which propelled them into third. position on the table.

Everything about the move, from the long throw to Chhetri’s stealth run, the quick move, and ultimately the finish, gave the impression that the move was a well-rehearsed boot camp routine. And that underscores just how crucial throw-ins are in the ISL in terms of creating scoring opportunities.

Of course, it would be naive to write off longcasts as an ISL phenomenon. The ‘strategy’ has been around for a long time, especially in Indian football, which has produced true masters of the long shot, who were often selected into the squad largely for that attribute.

indian ‘tradition’

In the mid-2000s, then-Air India manager Bimal Ghosh, who identified and honed many talented players during his time with the low-budget Mumbai club, signed a defender, Uttam Singh, around whom many of his team’s attacks were designed. The projectiles launched by Uttam inside the area, which caused panic in the opposing defenses and led Ghosh to often claim that he was the first Indian to use throw-ins as a set piece.

That, of course, is a highly debatable statement, as there were plenty of players before Uttam who were prolific when it came to powerful shots from the touchline. Former India defender Naushad Moosa, who is now Bengaluru’s assistant coach, made several important contributions with his huge passes; most notably during the 1997 South Asian Football Championship final in Kathmandu, when the Maldives were unable to handle Moosa’s passes, which resulted in two goals in a 5–1 victory.

Another former India international and Salgaocar star, Bruno Coutinho, was also known for his long passes. In Mohun Bagan’s final season in the I-League, defender Dhanachandra Singh made multiple long-kick assists on his behalf, including one in the biting cold of Srinagar as Bagan beat Real Kashmir FC 2-0. Dhanachandra, before that, had been influential with his pitches in Chennaiyin’s title-winning seasons in the ISL.

And then, of course, there was the intriguing case of Yumnam Singh, who was named by The Guardian in 2020 as one of 60 next-generation footballers to watch. Yumnam, who plays for Punjab FC in the I-League, can hardly be classed as a once-in-a-generation talent, but if there’s one thing he’s famous for, it’s long shots.

So while India has had a long and interesting history of producing players who have strong arms and know how to flex them, it’s fascinating to see how what was once a fringe talent has become almost mainstream in the ISL.

Long shots may not be aesthetically pleasing to look at, but they have surely been an effective goal option, almost as important as a corner kick, where teams spend enough time practicing.

‘It is not normal’

There have been numerous throw-ins that have led to goals this season. Before Shrivas’ effort, Sahal of Kerala Blasters abdul samad he threw one of the long passes during his team’s game against Hyderabad, which was volleyed by Álvaro Vázquez.

At the beginning of the season, Chennaiyin’s playmaker Anirudh Thapa shot a ball from the touchline inside the box which was finished off by Vladimir Koman and in another instance East Bengal’s Raju Gaikwad, another former Air man. India that started with Ghosh and developed a hobby. for long shots: he took one against Odisha, leading to the first goal in a 10-goal thriller.

Dhanachandra, as mentioned above, used the tactic well during his time with Chennaiyin, while John Arne Riise also terrified opposition defenses with his heavy shots during his time in the ISL. So this is not a trend exclusive to the current season, but still, Hyderabad’s Spanish coach Manolo Marquez seemed surprised when asked about it earlier in the season.

“I told my players the other day that I am surprised by two things in the Indian Super League,” Marquez said.

“One is the number of throw-ins because the serve of players like Raju, (NorthEast United) Mashoor (Shereef) and Tondonba (Singh, also from NorthEast United) is not normal, and the other is throw-ins in India is long. Normally the players would do it, but they can head the ball directly here.”

It may not be normal. But in the ISL, throw-ins have certainly proven to be more than just a method of restarting play.

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