The Indian football team sprung back to action earlier on Friday after a gap of almost 500 days when they took on Oman in an international friendly. Now, two days later they will be back on the pitch, challenging a much sterner opposition in the form of UAE.
UAE, ranked 74th in the world, are 30 places above India in the FIFA Rankings. However, the comeback draw vs Oman will give the Blue Tigers some much-needed confidence and belief.
While the clash is still some while away, it could be interesting to try and figure out how India might line up. Speaking at the pre-match press conference, head coach Igor Stimac gave a few hints as to who will be involved in the game.
After taking those cues and scratching our heads for a bit, here's how we think India could line up when they take on UAE on Monday —
India Predicted XI (4-3-3):
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, as has already been announced, will be leading the side against UAE. So it is a given that he will start between the sticks — whether or not Dheeraj Singh or Subhasish Roy Chowdhury gets a shot in the second half remains to be seen.
First things first, Stimac stated that Sandesh Jhingan will not be involved in the fixture and that he wants Mashoor Shereef and Adil Khan to get some game time. So we might see the two combine at the heart of defence but if you ask us, Mashoor needs more time and more regular football in the Indian Super League (ISL). We would rather go with Adil and Chinglensana Singh, especially against an opposition like UAE.
We expect Ashutosh Mehta to keep his place at right back and Mandar Rao Dessai to replace the young Akash Mishra at left back.
Stimac's midfield against UAE could very well be a trio of Anirudh Thapa, Rowllin Borges and the ever-impressive Lalengmawia, better known as Apuia. Thapa and Borges are both trusted warriors and should be starting. Apuia, who earned high praise after his debut against Oman, is also confirmed to start, as Stimac said at the pre-match press conference.
Manvir Singh, who is coming off the back of a terrific ISL season and also scored the equaliser against Oman, should be leading India's attack vs UAE in Sunil Chhetri absence. Assisting him on either flank should be Bipin Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte.
However, it remains to be seen if Stimac can fit in both Bipin and Chhangte in the same line-up given that they both prefer to operate down the left wing. If not, Liston Colaco could be a good option through the centre while Manvir plays on the right flank.
Head to head record:
India won: 2
UAE won: 9
India and UAE have faced each other 14 times so far with the latter holding the advantage with nine wins. India has won only thrice while two matches have been drawn.
The first time the Blue Tigers faced UAE was in an international friendly back in 1979 which ended in a goalless draw. The last time the two teams met was in the group stage of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup when UAE won 2-0.
Given UAE's overall strength, India's defence will no doubt be put to test time and again which means the likes of Adil Khan and Sana will have integral roles to play. But, frankly, it will be Gurpreet who will hold the cards. Remember how the custodian almost single-handedly stopped Qatar from scoring in the World Cup qualifiers.
The performances of Apuia, Bipin and Manvir will also be crucial for India, if the three of them can get going — with Apuia holding the play in midfield, Bipin spitting fire down the flanks and Manvir flourishing in his target man role — UAE might have a few problems.