These duels could go on to decide the Blue Tigers’ fate against the Golden Army on Thursday.

The Indian football team began their SAFF Championship 2021 campaign with a disappointing draw against Bangladesh on last Sunday. The Blue Tigers put up an ordinary performance and were therefore held on to a 1-1 draw against a 10-men Bangladesh. That said, India will be looking to bounce back on Thursday against Sri Lanka.

The island nation also did not have the best of starts to life at the SAFF Championship. They were on the receiving end of two back-to-back losses at the championship, against Bangladesh and Nepal. The two consecutive defeats mean that the Lankan lions are now on a 12-match losing run.

We take a look at the top five key battles that will have a role to play in Thursday’s clash.

5. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu Vs Dillon De Silva

The custodian is considered as India’s best man between the sticks. He has gained Stimac’s full confidence over the years and has proved his worth in big games. Gurpreet was one of India’s best players against Bangladesh in his side’s tournament opener. He denied them multiple opportunities to score with numerous saves, and India will expect the same from their star goalkeeper against Sri Lanka as well.

Gurpreet will come up against one of Sri Lanka’s best players in Dillon De Silva, who will be a big threat to India’s backline. Silva plays for the U-23 side of English outfit Queens Park Rangers. He is known for his sprints and can be deployed in multiple positions across the midfield and forward line. Dillon also scored his debut national team goal against Nepal, but unfortunately his side lost the game.

4. Brandon Fernandes Vs Marvin Hamilton

Brandon Fernandes
Brandon is India’s most creative option in the midfield (via FIFA Media)

Since the appointment of Stimac, a number of players have cemented their spots in the national team and one such star is FC Goa’s Brandon Fernandes. The Blue Tigers have developed a counter-attacking style of gameplay under the Croatian tactician. In such situations, Brandon’s role gets even bigger. His exceptional skills with or without the ball as well as in dead ball situations makes him an asset for India.

However, Fernandes will come up against Sri Lanka’s experienced defensive midfielder Marvin Hamilton. The 32-year-old plays in England and has a lot of experience. Marvin can slot in as a pivot, central midfielder and offers goals as well. Marvin’s primary role will be to keep Brandon’s movement in check, with and without the ball.

3. Udanta Singh Vs Harsha Fernando

Just when everyone thought that Udanta has lost his form, the speedster proved his doubters wrong. He set up the only goal for the Indians against Bangladesh, scored by Sunil Chhetri. Udanta shined in an upsetting draw against the Bengal Tigers and will be high on confidence and self-belief against Sri Lanka.

Harsha Fernando is one of Sri Lanka most consistent players and can play multiple roles across the backline. Although Amir Alegic mostly uses him as the left back, he has played in the centre as well. The Golden Army will be dependent on Harsha to neutralize Udanta’s threatening moves.

2. Chinglensana Singh Vs Ahmed Waseem Razeek

In the absence of star defender Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana has not disappointed completely. His movements with the ball, passing accuracy and alertness has earned him praises. Sana played a major role in creating the goal scoring move against Bangladesh. However, he will have the responsibility to contain one of Sri Lanka’s best players, Ahmed Waseem Razeek.

Razeek is Amir Alegic’s go to option in the attacking department. He’s a multi-faceted player who can play as a right winger, center forward and right midfielder. The Sri Lankan has scored two goals in six matches for his side and will be looking to add more to his tally against the Indians.

1. Sunil Chhetri Vs Yogendra Duckson Puslas

Nepal India
Chhetri’s goal saved India once again, during the draw against Bangladesh on Monday (via AIFF Media)

Arguably the best Indian player of his generation, Sunil Chhetri has displayed his abilities time and again in his prolonged career. The Indian skipper once again stepped up to the occasion to help India against Bangladesh as he scored the opener. Chhetri is the leading goal scorer for India at the SAFF Championship with 14 goals to his name. He is now the fourth highest active goal scorer on the international stage behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Ali Mabkhout.

However, Sri Lanka’s Yogendra Puslas will present a tough fight for Chhetri. Puslas is a highly experienced center-back and is well aware of the danger Chhetri possesses. He will look to keep Chhetri in check and nullify his half chances. A failure in doing so will cost Sri Lanka heavily.

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