These individual clashes could decide the outcome of the match.
India took a huge step towards qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 on Saturday. The Blue Tigers beat Afghanistan by a 2-1 scoreline at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, to stay in the hunt for top place in Group D of the qualifiers. An exquisite finish by Sunil Chhetri and a late winner by Sahal Abdul Samad gave the hosts three vital points. Igor Stimac’s men now have six points after winning the opening game against Cambodia as well. However, India’s upcoming and final group fixture against Hong Kong is set to be a huge challenge.
Their next opponents have also won both of their contests against Afghanistan and Cambodia respectively. Therefore, the final match becomes the decider for the top position, which will propel the winners directly into the AFC Asian Cup 2023 main draw. A second-place finish also could be enough, if they are among the five best second-place finishers.
The Blue Tigers’ aim will be to win the game and secure qualification, without having to rely on the best second-place teams’ stipulations. The match will be an even contest for sure and the following three battles will play a key role in the eventual outcome between India and Hong Kong.
3. Sandesh Jhingan Vs Matthew Orr
Matthew Orr will be leading the Hong Kong attack and hoping to get on the scoresheet yet again. The striker has scored in each of the two matches for his team in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. He scored the second in a 2-1 win over Afghanistan and the first in a 3-0 win over Cambodia. He will be a huge threat to the Indian defence with his movement and finishing.
The task of stopping Orr will majorly fall on Sandesh Jhingan. He is the enforcer in the defence, who does not shy away from putting in a tackle. His partnership with Anwar Ali is looking strong and the pair are yet to concede from open play.
The centre-back appeared to have pulled his calf against Afghanistan and it remains to be seen how much that will hamper his duel with Orr in the upcoming game.
2. Sunil Chhetri vs Wai-Lim Yu
Sunil Chhetri is instrumental to the Indian team. The skipper has three goals from the last two matches for the Blue Tigers. He scored a sensational brace in a 2-0 win against Cambodia. Later, he found the net again in a 2-1 win over Afghanistan with a sublime curling free-kick. Despite his age, Chhetri is a constant threat and will be a key player for Stimac and Co.
As for Hong Kong, their defence must produce a strong performance. Giving someone like Sunil Chhetri space could backfire. One of the centre-backs in the lineup, Wai-Lim Yu will look to cancel the striker out. He will hope to out-muscle the Indian captain and frustrate him with the lack of space.
Having said that, the defender must be aware of Sunil’s expert movement inside the box and keep him away from getting his head on set-pieces.
1. Suresh Singh Wangjam Vs Chan Siu Kwan Philip
The midfield battle often decides the outcome of a match. This particular area of the field is vital since winning duels in the middle of the park gives a team confidence and possession of the ball.
There will be several notable clashes in the middle and one of them could be Siu Kwan Philip and Suresh Singh Wangjam’s face-off. The former scored in Hong Kong’s comfortable win over Cambodia and will come into the game against India with confidence.
As for the Blue Tigers, Suresh Singh Wangjam is one of the hardest-working players in the team. The midfielder is a tireless runner who is crucial with his ball recoveries, interceptions and causing turnovers. When the teams take the field, the 21-year-old will need to get the better of not only Siu Kwan Philip, but also the likes of Wai Wong and Huang Yang.