Confident India look to continue winning momentum against slippery New Zealand
Written by: Debajit Sarma
The Blue Tigers are expected to look to continue their momentum against the All Whites.
Two comprehensive victories, eight goals scored and zero conceded; before even taking the field against New Zealand on Thursday for their final round-robin clash at the Mumbai Football Arena, team India already have one foot in the final of the Intercontinental Cup.
The Blue Tigers need only a draw against the All Whites to book a berth in the final on June 10th. Even if they lose, it wouldn’t make much of a difference as their goal difference of +8 looks unassailable.
Coming to the last game, a 3-0 win over the Kenyans, it was a packed house at the Mumbai Football Arena which vociferously got behind the boys in Blue. But the torrential rain didn’t make for good viewing as the first half became a very scrappy affair. The Blue Tigers struggled with the conditions which allowed the Kenyans to dictate play and impose their game on the hosts.
India experienced huge support against Kenya
However, as the weather cleared in the second half, India’s game also improved. They began to see more of the ball and constantly drove forward taking the game to the opposition. Their efforts in the half bore fruit in the form of three unanswered goals.
On the day of a personal milestone for him, Captain Fantastic Sunil Chhetri was once again the star on the night as he added a brace to his hat-trick against Chinese Taipei. The Indian skipper got lucky for the penalty which he converted to score his first. But, there was nothing lucky about his second goal, as Chhetri exquisitely chipped the goalkeeper in the dying embers of the game.
The Mizo Sniper Jeje Lalpekhlua yet again was a great strike partner for captain Chhetri as both of them in tandem gave the Kenyan defence a lot of trouble in the second half. Lalpekhlua got a goal for himself, a net-busting effort from inside the box.
The defence deserves special praise as they were brilliant throughout the game, especially in the first half. The Harambee Stars were physically imposing and quick, but their threat was effectively nullified by the Indian backline.
Team and Composition
Stephen Constantine has fielded the same starting XI in both matches so far and with a place in the final all but secured, the coach could look to experiment with the starting XI on Thursday. But, the tactician knows all too well that the All Whites would present the strongest test to his team and losing against them would halt the momentum built after these two games. So, Constantine would most probably field his strongest possible lineup.
India's probable lineup against New Zealand
In the last game against Kenya, Sandesh Jhingan limped off the field and it is highly unlikely that he would be risked for this game. Jhingan was seen doing light training on Wednesday evening along with Anas Edathodika, who is also doubtful to face New Zealand on Thursday.
So, the young Salam Ranjan Singh can hope to partner Subhasish Bose, who was given the role of a centre back against Kenya after Sandesh Jhingan's substitution.
In the last game, after Jhingan went off, the very impressive Subhashish Bose moved into the centre of defence and Narayan Das filled into the left-back slot. This combination looked very good and this might also be a possibility the coach could want to explore.
Watch: Indian training session ahead of the match against New Zealand
The midfield duo of Anirudh Thapa and Pranoy Halder is also expected to continue, with the latter being one of the star performers in both of India's games. The wings are expected to be occupied by Udanta Singh and Holicharan Narzaray, of whom the latter might be replaced by Ashique Kuruniyan or Laldanmawia Ralte, later in the game.
Thapa did not have a good game against Kenya as he failed to cope with the Africans' physicality. If he continues to struggle against New Zealand's physical prowess as well, the youngster could be replaced by veteran Rowlin Borges.
The forward duo of Lalpekhlua and Chhetri are also expected to start against the All Whites with a chance of Balwant Singh replacing the former after the 75th minute.
Constantine may be tempted to make wholesale changes for the game against the New Zealanders. But, it is highly unlikely that he will tinker with his favourite 4-4-2 formation and the team would most probably lineup similar to the previous two matches.
About the Opposition: New Zealand
New Zealand should have been preparing for the World Cup in Russia at this point in time. But, in a case of so close, yet so far, they were beaten by Peru in the playoffs to fall agonisingly short. Though, the All Whites have made the trip to India with a young and inexperienced side, they are still a good team who can give the Blue Tigers a run for their money.
The New Zealanders are brilliant in the air and Constantine’s route one football may find a dead end against them. They are well organised defensively and can keep India’s forwards on a tight leash. New Zealand’s aerial prowess would also prove to be handy while attacking from corners and free-kicks.
The All Whites transition very quickly from attack to defence and their forwards are always running at opposition defenders with brilliant passes from the midfield. India’s midfielders would have to be good at their job to screen the back four well.
The likes of the Ingham brothers, Myer Bevan and Indian-origin Sarpreet Singh have looked good with the ball at their feet and combine around the opposition penalty box well. These players can give India’s backline a hard time.
With Kenya favourites to win against Chinese Taipei in the other round-robin match, the All Whites know very well that anything less than a victory against the hosts would cut their Indian sojourn short. So, this young New Zealand team will have extra motivation to upset the Indian applecart.
Schedule, Telecast and Venue
The match will be played at the Mumbai Football Arena. The Star Sports Network will cover the game and it will start at 8 PM IST. Khel Now will keep you updated with live commentary, videos from the stands, players and the coaches as well as both post-match press conferences streamed Live on our Facebook page, followed by reports on the same.
Published: Thu Jun 07, 2018 04:54 PM IST