The Asian dream begins. Ever since 2011, every Indian football fan has woken up with a dream to see the crest of the Indian national team perform at the European championships’ Asian equivalent and eight years later, here we are. India take on Thailand in their Group A encounter in the AFC Asian Cup on Sunday at the Al-Nahyan Stadium. This is the beginning.
A lot of effort has been put in to save what’s at stake – respect. India play to keep their pride intact and if they manage to move ahead of the group stage, it would be termed an achievement for a country that has never achieved the feat on merit. (India were the finalists in 1962, with only four teams participating).
According to most former players, Thailand, with India’s form at the moment, look beatable. But, Stephen Constantine and his lads should take their opposition for granted at their own peril.
Their defensive rigidity and stubbornness, as well as the midfield’s balance, holds the Blue Tigers in good stead. With the UAE challenge looming large, India will look to make the most of their chances against Bahrain and Thailand.
About The Teams
India have played three strong nations in their last three encounters, drawing two and losing another in foreign conditions. China posed a massive challenge for the Blue Tigers both in footballing and reputation terms and drawing against the neighbours earned the boys respect and confidence. Against Jordan, they played a second-string side as most of the squad were stuck mid-journey due to incessant rains in the country. Oman were a different challenge altogether and India held fort well, coming close on several occasions.
Watch: India’s all goals in 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Round 3
India were to play Syria, and that would have prepared the side well, but the match did not take place. However, they’ve looked good in training and have studied their opponents well. Centrally, it will be very difficult to find gaps through Thailand and thus, the onus will be on Udanta Singh and Holicharan Narzary to deliver the output from the wings. Jeje Lalpekhlua, too, would need to work on his positioning and heading.
Thailand head into the Asian Cup after having played the ASEAN Football Federation’s Suzuki Cup. The defending champions were their dominant best in the group stages, emerging first in their group. However, the highly-favoured team stumbled in the semi-final against Malaysia on away goals. The War Elephants’ striker Adisak missed a crucial penalty late in the game, which led to their eventual elimination.
Despite going out to Malaysia, the tournament had a lot of positives for the young side, especially in the form of Pansa Hemviboon and Thitipan Puangchan. Striker Adisak Kraisorn, who missed what could have been the winner from the spot in the semi-final, finished as the top scorer in the tournament with eight goals. The Thai side did not lose a single match at the event in regulation time.
Thailand are the lowest ranked team in Group A. However, with the form they are in, the War Elephants can’t be written off. Under Rajevac they are known to pull off hard results and it would be no surprise to see them progress from the group.
Constantine can be expected to go with one of two systems – either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2. Ideally, in both scenarios, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is set to start under the bar, with Anas Edathodika and vice-captain Sandesh Jhingan manning him centrally. Subhasish Bose will play at left-back and Pritam Kotal will accompany him on the opposite flank.
India’s probable lineup against Thailand: scenario one
In the first scenario, ideally, both Rowllin Borges and Pronay Halder should play as defensive shelters, with Anirudh Thapa slotting into the #10 role. Udanta down the right, captain Chhetri down the left, with Lalpekhlua up top. But, that looks unlikely, given Constantine’s love for the tireless defensive worker Narzary on the left.
India’s probable lineup against Thailand: scenario two
He will play, taking Borges’ place in the XI. Thapa will replace the NorthEast United ace in midfield, with Chhetri playing behind Lalpekhlua. Udanta may have a little competition from FC Goa’s in-form Jackichand Singh, but is expected to make the lineup. Jackichand may be given a look-in from the bench against tiring defenders.
India’s probable lineup against Thailand: scenario three
In the 4-4-2 formation, India will have exactly the same setup, with Chhetri taking up a more advanced position, slotting in as a second striker with Lalpekhlua in tow. The proximity with which the pair has played in recent national team affairs makes this a fair bet. The manager would also be willing to keep Chhetri as close to goal as possible, knowing him to be India’s best scoring option.
Balwant Singh looks certain to come on late in the game and so does Borges. It will be interesting to see how substitutions help or change India’s approach in the contest.
Thailand are expected to start in a 4-2-3-1 shape.
Sandhu (GK), Bose, Edathodika, Jhingan, Kotal, Halder, Thapa, Narzary, Udanta, Chhetri, Lalpekhlua.
Chatchai (GK), Pansa, Tristan, Chalermpong, Theerathon, Tanaboon, Thitipan, Adisak, Chanathip, Sanrawat, Dangda ©.
Milovan Rajevac (Thailand)- “We’re working on making the team more compact and having the players understand each other better and how they play,” he said to Reuters.
“We want something from them that is different to what they are doing with their clubs, playing for the result and taking more responsibility.
“But they’re adjusting and they’re adapting to these things and I’m positive that we are going in the right direction.”
Stephen Constantine (India)- “There’s no pressure on us. Four years before no one expected us to qualify. After we qualified everyone was thinking that we are going to lose the three games. It’s up to us to prove that we deserve to be here,” Constantine said.
Watch: The rise of Indian football
Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)- “I don’t have much information about India but the scouting team will show us their videos soon. The first game is always tough but our team has been improving and I’m sure we can earn three points from the opening game,” he said.
Sunil Chhetri (India)- “At the moment, our sole focus is on our opening fixture – the game against Thailand. At the moment, we are not looking anything beyond that. Yeah, there are matches against UAE and Bahrain lined up but we will think about them only when they come. At the moment we know that Thailand will be a very tough opponent and we are concentrating only on them,” Chhetri quipped.
What To Expect
A 1-0, in favour of the side that counters well. India have been synonymous with the scoreline during matches against big teams and Thailand will be happy to start with three invaluable points. Both sides will look to play down the wings, but Thailand, ideally, should set up a side that finds and uses spaces centrally. India will concede some of it, with Halder being the only shield in that respect.
The goalscoring responsibilities would be assigned to Chhetri and he’s at the height of his powers. Will the #11 take India to their first victory at the AFC Asian Cup with him featuring in it?
The game will be telecast in six languages in India on Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD, Star Sports 3, Star Sports 1 Hindi, Star Sports 1 HD Hindi, Star Sports 1 Tamil, Star Sports 1 Kannada, along with Hotstar from 6:50 PM on Sunday evening.