India's match against 74-ranked UAE tonight is going to be interesting for a lot of different reasons. While this is a genuine opportunity for head coach Igor Stimac to test his younger starlets against a difficult opposition, therein also lies the irony because India go into the match as underdogs owing to the youngsters in the side. Yet, what will be intriguing to see is whether India's 'new batch', who have emerged from this season's Indian Super League (ISL), are able to stand up to the challenge and make themselves counted. Amongst this lot, someone who will attract quite a few eyeballs if he features tonight is Hyderabad FC winger Liston Colaco, one of three players apart from Dheeraj Singh and Hitesh Sharma who is yet to make his debut after 10 others did the same against Oman.
One of the stars of ISL 2020-21
In 19 matches this season, the 22-year-old from Davorlim in Goa notched up 2 goals and 3 assists. While those numbers may not inspire great confidence, what has been impressive about the youngster is his ability to take on opposition defenders and beat them almost at will. Another aspect of his game which might provoke Stimac to give him a proper run-out tonight is his directness with the ball and his work rate without it. With 27 tackles and 7 interceptions, he is one of those rare Indian attackers who knows when to press and when to protect the space behind him.
What he brings to the table
In all of his goal involvements in the recently concluded ISL campaign, Liston has shown that he has matured. Someone who was once questioned for his decision-making has now improved his temperament to a level that opposition defenders tend to back away from making a final tackle. His penchant for winning the ball back in dangerous areas is another factor which might play into his hands as he looks to make his India debut. Furthermore, if he is tried on either flank, his dove-tailing with Akash/Mandar on the left or Ashutosh/Pritam down the right might also be a source of joy for the Indian team going forward. This can even end up being the difference between a good and bad result with India seemingly happy to absorb the pressure and break quickly, as seen against Oman.
Whether he features tonight or not, fact remains that the highly-rated attacker is one of India's best bets when it comes to creating magic in the opposition half. If he can make an established defender like SC East Bengal's Scott Neville grab onto thin air with his pace and intelligence, giving him a chance to show what he is capable of for India is probably not the most unreasonable demand.
Over to Igor Stimac.