Five key battles to look out for in the Nepal Vs India friendlies
The Blue Tigers will travel to Kathmandu to face the Gorkhalis in two International Friendlies.
Igor Stimac's India have already landed in Kathmandu for the two friendlies versus Nepal at Dasharath Stadium. With just two days remaining for the first of the two friendlies, the Nepal Vs India fever is on. The sides are meeting for the first time since 2019, before they undertake last-minute preparations for the SAFF Championship.
On one hand, we have India, a side that have always been dominant over Nepal and despite their recent dip, will come out confident. The Nepali side, on the other hand, are more confident than ever after the arrival of Abdullah Almutairi back in April. Almutairi, like his Indian counterpart Igor Stimac, prefers a possession-based brand of football, making the battle as exciting as ever.
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In this clash of similar approaches, there will be plenty of individual tussles where the game can be won or lost. Here are five such individual battles to look out for in the Nepal Vs India friendlies:
5. Santosh Tamang Vs Anirudh Thapa
Anirudh Thapa has been Stimac's go-to midfielder for quite some time now. In addition to his creative flair, the Chennaiyin FC midfielder's off-the-ball actions are valuable for the Croat's system. Often seen pressing with grit whenever his side are out of position, Thapa's capability will be key for the Indians against Santosh Tamang.
Tamang, under Almutairi, has been one player who has impressed in midfield. In addition to his outside runs, Tamang can effectively operate both as a No. 6 and a No. 8. The 27-year-old is skillful and always looks to progress while he's on the ball. Considering his abilities, Nepal's ball progression from midfield is threaded to the Biratnagar City star.
Since both of these players share similarities, the midfield battle between them will largely determine the sides' central progression. Each of them will look to get into spaces as well as nullify the other whenever they're off the ball. The Thapa-Tamang battle, hence, will be a quiet, yet crucial one that can determine where the Nepal Vs India contest heads towards.
4. Dinesh Rajbanshi Vs Sunil Chhetri
India's talismanic forward Sunil Chhetri has scored five so far against the country he has special ties with. Occupying a more central role under Stimac, the 37-yer-old can still win matches for India – and he's done that frequently as well. The Nepali side will take this and Rohit Chand's absence into consideration, planning things differently this time around.
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After the head coach switch, Persija Jakarta's star Rohit Chand has been a regular centre-back. Dinesh Rajbanshi is a good candidate to fill in his shoes, provided that Almutairi doesn't opt to pull out Pujan Uperkoti from the midfield to fulfill the void. At just 23 years of age, Rajbanshi has been in the national team squad for a few years now and offers defensive robustness. Chhetri's ability to quickly get behind defences with his intelligent runs will come against the youngster in the two friendlies. Chhetri, as the leader of the first line of the press, will be in charge of intercepting the passing lanes.
3. Pujan Uperkoti Vs Brandon Fernandes
Brandon Fernandes, operating in the No. 10 slot, provides India with much-needed creativity. The FC Goa midfielder can operate between the lines, making it tricky for the opposition to pick his passes. Nepal's 4-1-4-1 shape off-the-ball, however, might cause difficulties to Fernandes with the sole holding midfielder picking out short passes in the middle. Nepal's 1, in this case, is Pujan Uperkoti.
After switching Rohit Chand to the central defender's slot, Uperkoti has emerged as one reliable defensive midfielder for Nepal. Uperkoti's ability to drop and collect balls from defence is paralleled by his nature to position and pick out passes. In this case, Fernandes will look to free-up himself and get around Uperkoti, as well as stay close to his shadow to limit progression in advanced areas.
2. Anjan Bista Vs Pritam Kotal
As of late, Anjan Bista has been the jewel in Nepal's crown. The attacker is versatile and is able to often find solutions in and out of the final third to create scoring chances. Often operating in the left half-space and the zone-14, Bista can be the one that the Indian defence will have to be wary about. With Sandesh Jhingan out of the squad that travelled to Kathmandu, Pritam Kotal is the key man for India.
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While Bista's tendency to drop into midfield will require a midfielder to mark him, his advanced runs will need Kotal to step up for India. Bista has been involved in all of the goals that Nepal have scored under Almutairi. The 23-year-old is capable of drawing players towards him before threading a pass into the area for a striker, or allow a full-back to overlap. If Kotal manages to overcome this battle, India will have a major chunk of the defensive burden lifted off their shoulders.
1. Ananta Tamang Vs Manvir Singh
A lot has been said about Manvir Singh's ability to flourish as a center-forward. Yet, under Stimac, Singh starts as a right winger with Sunil Chhetri occupying the central spot. The ATK Mohun Bagan player often attacks the zone around the left centre-back, and he'll be up against Ananta Tamang.
Despite being just 23, the Three Star Club defender has been a crucial member of the Nepali defence for long now. As a physically strong centre-back, Tamang is capable of dealing with ball-runners as well as poachers. The former Nepal U-19 vice-captain is also very good in reading blindside runs – a trait often seen in Manvir Singh's plays. This battle will be an interesting one to watch out for during the Nepal Vs India games, as both the players will play to their strenghts and try to nullify eachother's best attributes.
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