2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, India vs Bangladesh: Time for Igor Stimac’s men to bring out the big guns
Team India are all set to take on next-door neighbours Bangladesh in their third match of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.
Back in September, the Indian football team took a massive, massive leap in their journey to establish themselves a footballing nation of repute on the continent.
How? Well, for one, they held reigning AFC Cup champions Qatar in their own backyard to a goalless draw, a feat that no other Asian team has managed to do in 2019.
Now, almost a month later, team India are all set to take on next-door neighbours Bangladesh in their third match of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday. What makes this occasion a special one is the fact that India head into the match as favourites and that does not happen too often.
It's imperative that we win this game: Stimac
Indeed, all the odds are in India’s favour. The hosts are up against less-fancied opponents, ranked 83 places below them in the Fifa rankings. On top of that, ever since Igor Stimac took over the reins, there has been a new sense of optimism about the Indian team. The awe-inspiring result against Qatar has also raised a sense of the occasion, scarcely seen in Indian football.
Now, in the post-Qatar hype and hoopla, the onus is on Stimac and his men to ensure that the momentum is not lost. “In the first two games, we were not favourites. But now the whole pressure is on us. Expectations and excitements around this match are only because of our fightback against Qatar.
“We have somehow wakened up everyone with our recent performances. Everyone is now aware that on our day, we can play against the best. This is why it's imperative that we win this game against Bangladesh so that we have a chance to keep dreaming,” the Croatian coach said during his pre-match conference.
Perhaps, we need to delve deeper into the matter. How does India actually approach such a game? One which, despite injuries to key players, they need to win at all costs because a bad result could mean the end of the road.
Bangladesh look to exploit India’s pressure points
The pressure of securing their first win in the World Cup qualifiers and the forced to rejig in defence could add up to hurt India. Without Sandesh Jhingan, who injured his ACL during a friendly last week, and long-term absentee Pronay Halder, India’s defence, which is notorious for leaking ill-timed goals, is considerably weakened.
While Bangladesh can expect their backline to be tested, they will be aware of India’s problems and will look to exploit them.
Bangladesh captain Jamal Bhuyan was very quick to point that out during the visitors’ pre-match interaction: “India are favourites and pressure is on them. We are looking to break India's hearts tomorrow. I am going to tell my boys to go there and give their best in front of such a massive crowd…Of course, India are missing an important player. We have to create chances and try to score. ”
The visiting coach Jamie Day also exuded confidence at the press conference as he said: “We must make sure Chhetri doesn't get the ball…We created some good chances against Qatar. We defended well. We caused them some problems. Qatar had two shots on target they scored both we got five we couldn't score. If we take our chances we can win against India.”
Time for Chhetri and Co. to flex their muscles
While Bangladesh are nurturing hopes of pulling off an upset, India are aware that they have a job on hand and they will have to bring out the big guns.
In Jhingan’s absence, comeback man Anas Edathodika and the other senior players will have to step up. The 4-4-1-1 setup that Stimac likes to implement should see Rahul Bheke, Adil Khan, Anas and Mandar Rao Desai forming the defensive line and the obvious Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal.
Young prodigy Sahal Abdul Samad, Ashqiue Kuruniyan and the pacy Udanta Singh will hold the key for the Blue Tigers, especially when going forward. Anirudh Thapa and Brandon Fernandes, on the other hand, will be expected to be the link between defence and attack.
The man who matters the most for India is undoubtedly Chhetri. His goal-scoring touch has been second to no other Indian in the recent past while at the same time he has been heavily involved in creating chances for his teammates in the final third.
In whatever way they line up, Stimac would know that there are no taking half measures just because the opponent is not that strong. He will certainly tell his players to flex their muscles, give in their all and crush the opposition in front of them!