The Blue Tigers may have already qualified for next year’s tournament but a win in Bishkek will see them climb to their highest ever FIFA ranking.
In more than 200 countries that play the sport, India has a chance to be ranked 82nd. For the first time in the 21st century, the Blue Tigers may invertedly cross the 90th rank mark and that, certainly, will help their chances in the draw at the AFC Asian Cup 2019. But they have a major missing happening in the name of Sunil Chhetri, India’s guardian angel.
67th minute. Mohammed Rafique lets go of a ball he’s close to because his captain zooms into the scene. In India’s half, a little outside the box. The man controls it with a touch from the inside of his boot, changes direction. A heavier touch sees him gain acceleration and beat a diving opposition as he runs in the Kyrgyz Republic’s direction. Chhetri makes another small touch as another defender comes diving in, tip-toeing it past him. With just the perfect touch and precise, he lays it in the path of an onrushing Jeje Lalpekhlua. Jeje takes a touch, almost stops and lobs the ball with the acute front of his feet.
Chhetri is still running; he didn’t stop. He outran the Indian No. 12 and latches onto the lobbed pass with a first touch Dimitar Berbatov would be proud of. A perfect body shape helps him to place the ball in the bottom right corner of the custodian, much to the delight of the Sree Kanteerava home fans. The match ended 1-0. The scenes are still fresh.
Gurpreet’s saves, Edathodika’s goal-line clearances and Borges’ midfield resilience would still be needed. Much needed. A little magic from Jeje and Balwant will also come in handy.
The away supporters will not see the man, who has enchanted the Indian football fans for close to a decade now, perform as he sits out. Chhetri has earned two yellow cards in India’s AFC Cup qualifiers against Myanmar and will not be part of the team that’ll travel to the Kyrgyz Republic for the game on March 27.
The Men in Blue are looking forward to finish the qualifiers without a defeat
The Indian National Team Manager Stephen Constantine has always remained in the soup for his selections and the kind of display the team has put in on the pitch, but there’s small doubt on the kind of results his team has achieved. The Blue Tigers are on an 11-match unbeaten run, but certainly, know that defeating the 115th ranked side will be no mean task. However, the team is travelling after a good season of Indian football and the confidence and motive factor surely remains high.
Constantine has conventionally picked up a side not flashy, but rigid, and at this venue, the trick might just work. With Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Chhetri out, a lot will depend on Dhanpal Ganesh or Mohd. Rafique (whoever plays) alongside Rowlin Borges, easily India’s most improved player on the international circuit.
India stand at 99th on the FIFA rankings and may jump to 82nd if they win their last qualifier and a few other results go their way. If India successfully achieves the coveted ranking, they’ll get into Pot 2 during the AFC Asian Cup draw to be held on May 4 in Dubai, resisting a lot of Asian heavyweights at least in the group stage.
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
The expected squad
Khel Now, in a previously published article, had said that predicting Stephen Constantine’s chosen XI is not rocket science, and not a lot has changed in the small time span that has passed. The 55-year-old will certainly start with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, deservingly. The India No. 1 has not really put wrong steps since returning from his Norway stint at Stabaek.
At the heart of the defence, much-loved pair of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika are certain to keep their places. On the left, Narayan Das can be expected to be given a look in. Nishu kumar is expected to start on the right as Pritam Kotal did not make the cut in the 24-men team which Constantine announced to travel to the Kyrgyz Republic.
This is how India may line up in absence of talismanic Sunil Chhetri
With four at the back, India is expected to shape up in the conventional 4-4-2. Dhanpal Ganesh is expected to form the midfield duo alongside Rowlin Borges, India’s composed screener. On the wings, Holicharan Narzary and Udanta Singh are expected to be the favourites to start.
Up top, Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua are expected to start together, and Singh could be expected to play a withdrawn role. Anirudh Thapa is expected to play a role at some point as well.
With Constantine at the helm, India has always had the policy of security first, and thus, the idea of Ganesh and Borges together, both defensive midfielders, shouldn’t be giving you creeps already.
The host nation thumped Myanmar 5-1 on March 22 and this is certainly bad news for the visiting team. Coached by Aleksandr Krestinin and captained by Azamat Baymatov, the White Falcons clearly have the side and gameplay to fire any team out of the game on their day. With Mirlan Murzaev, Vitalij Lux, Islam Shamsiev and Anton Zemlianukhin all firing or creating, this tie looks ordained to be a defence-versus-attack mechanism in the making.
This is exactly where India’s defensive midfield comes in and plays an important role. The Kyrgyz Republic do not play long ball, and their transitional midfield is their key to breaking down opposition defences. They’re good at managing spaces, running behind defenders and that odd cross can also be expected. Thus, the onus will be on Ganesh (the preferred choice) and Borges, to solve the conundrum.
Stephen Constantine said, “When you represent the National Team you are never playing for a draw.” Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who accompanied the Indian coach was asked a particularly uncomfortable question where he remaked, “I think it was a very unfortunate incident. Some things even I can’t take back.”
To know more, read the press conference here.
The Kyrgyz Republic will host India at the Dolen Omurzakov Stadium, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on March 27. The match will start at 7:30 PM IST (8 PM Local Time). The game will be shown live on Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD and Hotstar.