The Blue Tigers’ new tactician is still in the process of identifying his first-choice starting XI ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers.

It’s curtains. The Indian national team, before they heads to the World Cup Qualifiers, will face Syria in arguably, their most difficult challenge of the Intercontinental Cup 2019. Although a dead rubber for the hosts as they’re already out of contention for a spot in the final, but Syria still have a lot to play for and with a reputation at stake, the Blue Tigers won’t let it go easily. 

The holders are at the bottom of the table currently, having lost both games they’ve played, conceding nine times in just over 180 minutes. The defensive stats won’t make any Indian fan proud and nor do they bring a smile on new manager Igor Stimac’s face, who was visibly irked by the display in the first half against DPR Korea. The visitors had scored three times in the first 45 and at times, the players looked like they were chasing shadows. 

Things did get better though. With a ring of chances introduced by the manager at half-time, India looked better going forward and scored twice through captain Sunil Chhetri and Lallianzuala Chhangte. 

Patience, though, is not a commodity that perseveres for long. Stimac needs to address that and ensure that his lads perform to the best of their abilities against the West Asian nation and make their presence felt at the tournament that replaced the prestigious Nehru Cup last year. 

Watch: Igor Stimac’s post-match press conference following defeat against DPR Korea

About The Teams

India

The Blue Tigers have been sitting in and around the 100th rank in the FIFA table for a while now, currently sitting in 101st. The coach’s style is easy on the eye. You have the ball, pass it forward and run. If there’s one player who has looked comfortable in this system, it’s Sahal Abdul Samad. His introduction changed a lot of things for the hosts in the second half against DPR Korea and the man can be expected to start again. 

Chhetri has continued to put on a stellar show with whatever scarce opportunities he’s got, scoring three times already. The captain, though, could’ve done better with ball-playing on some occasions and his reactions clearly suggested that he knew it. He’ll be expected to put in a shift again, against a team he’s played in the past. 

India will be buoyed by their record against their next opponents, having defeated them twice in the last two meetings and winning three times in the last five. Stimac, too, would like to end this one on a high, as confidence before the World Cup Qualifiers would help the team positively. He needs to work with his defenders and plug the holes behind and through them. 

Syria

The team isn’t on its hottest form, but Syria are still one of Asia’s biggest teams. The coach, Fajr Ebrahim has already stated that the team is preparing for the qualifiers and is taking every match seriously. They started brilliantly with a 5-2 win against DPR Korea and were virtually unplayable in the second half, scoring four times.

Ranked 85 on the FIFA rankings table, Syria lost the next game 2-0 to Tajikistan. They will be hoping to get back to winning ways, looking at India’s dire form at the back. It’ll be interesting to see how Ebrahim chooses his first XI, given the options at his disposal. The Qasioun Nosour have new players on the roster, several of them who haven’t even made their debuts and will be itching to get that elusive first run.

Probable Tactics

India

The starting lineup is still a work-in-progress and coach Stimac will do welll to figure out who he prefers on the pitch before the WC qualifiers. The defence is likely to be captained by Adil Khan, with either Subhasish Bose or Narender Gehlot joining the veteran centrally. Narender looks the more obvious choice, given his comfort in the Stimac system. 

Rahul Bheke and Mandar Rao Dessai can be expected to return to the starting XI to make a back four that will protect Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s goal. Yes, the man from Bengaluru will return between the sticks after two positional errors from Mumbai City FC goalkeeper Amrinder Singh in a rather forgettable outing. 

India’s probable lineup against Syria

The defensive midfield is an interesting dilemma for the manager. The fleet-footed slickness of Amarjit Singh Kiyam can be expected to continue, with Anirudh Thapa joining him in trying to both link defence with attack, while covering counter-attacks. How these two handle pressure will be interesting to see and a tweak in their positioning while defending can do wonders for the side. 

Up top, the trio of Chhangte, Samad and Udanta Singh can be expected to support Chhetri, who’ll operate as the #9. If Samad isn’t at his full fitness, Brandon Fernandes can be expected to start in the #10 position, something the lad will be itching to do. Given Stimac’s love to change things up time and again, we’ll have to wait until the lineups are announced to be sure. 

Syria

Ibrahim Alma is expected to start the game under the bar. Amro Jenyat and Abdal Razak Al Mohamad will take the right-back and left-back role respectively. Abdallah Al Shami and Hasan Abu Zainab will man the defence centrally for the team that will go all out to win. 

Ebrahim prefers the 4-2-3-1 setup and his midfield usually turns into a condensed 4-5-1 while defending, with forward Shadi Al-Hamawi expected to play the #9 role. Positions are up for grabs in central midfield and there could be a couple of changes as the manager may try new combinations. Firas Al-Khatib, though, will come on for Hamawi at some point. 

Syria probable lineup against India

Tamer Haj Mohamad will man the defensive midfield alongside the talented Mohammad Al Marmour, who’s riding high on confidence after his brace against DPR Korea in the first encounter. 

Ahmad Al-Ahmad will start down the right flank, and will be joined by Ward Al Salama, who’ll operate down the other flank. Centrally, Mouhamad Anez will lend his creativity to make things happen for the visitors.

Probable Lineups

Syria: Alma, Jenyat, Al Shami, Abu Zainab, Al Mohamad, Haj Mohamad, Al Marmour, Al-Ahmad, Anez,  Al Salama, Al-Hamawi

India: Gurpreet, Bheke, Adil, Narender, Rao Desai, Amarjit, Thapa, Chhangte, Sahal, Udanta, Chhetri

Watch: Sunil Chhetri says he will back Igor Stimac in his decisions

Players To Watch

Shadi Al-Hamawi: The 24-year-old striker has age, speed and movement on his side and displayed his full quota of abilities against DPR Korea in the opening fixture. He’s got a mean foot on him and the Najran SC forward will be keen to prove his scoring prowess after a lull against Tajikistan. 

Lallianzuala Chhangte: In a piece earlier published by Khel Now, we stated that both Udanta Singh and Chhangte should shoot more to take the pressure of Chhetri’s giant shoulders. The players probably read the piece (no, we don’t mean that) and applied just that in the second half after coming off the bench against DPR Korea. Chhangte, in particular, looked inspired and if he continues in the same vein, India could probably expect him to be on the scoresheet again. 

What To Expect

An exciting encounter. Both teams haven’t done well in their last encounter and thus, will look to change their confidence levels. But mind you, this is not going to be easy. India won’t be pushovers against Syria, who start as favourites. The hosts have won against the West Asian team twice and the Blue Tigers wouldn’t mind another one. The fourth game ended in a draw. The better team in midfield can be expected to win this one.

Broadcast

The match will be broadcast live on the Star Sports Network on July 16, Tuesday, starting 8:00 PM. It will also be streamed on Hotstar and Jio TV.