With less than six months to go for the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship in China, the search for the top 15 nations to accompany the hosts in the final event has already begun.
India are in Group C along with hosts Qatar, Syria and Turkmenistan. Finishing on top or being one of the five best runners-up will see the Colts seal a berth in what will be their maiden AFC U-23 Championship finals.
India's senior men's team head coach, Stephen Constantine takes charge of the young guns in order to ensure a place in the continental elite. However, stern opposition awaits them in the form of a Central Asian and two Middle-eastern teams.
Constantine sees India as a Top 50 team
India U-23 have already begun their campaign on 19th July with a 2-0 loss to Syria. With only two matches to go, each of them will be a virtual do-or-die.
|Game||India U-23 vs Qatar U-23|
|Date||Friday, 21 July|
|Time||20:00 (local) / 22:30 IST|
TV CHANNEL & LIVE STREAM
In India, the match will sadly not be broadcasted on television. However, one can stream the match live on the official broadcaster's website worldwide,
|INDIA TV channel||Online stream|
|N/A||Shoof Alkass Net|
Fans in the host country could watch the match on Alkass One in HD and Alkass Three in SD. One also has the option to follow the live stream on Alkass' website.
|QATAR TV channel||Online stream|
|Alkass One HD / Alkass Three||Shoof Alkass Net|
SQUADS & TEAM NEWS
India's first XI pick themselves as most players of the starting eleven have regular minutes of ISL and I-League under their belt from last season. Stephen Constantine has also chosen a couple of players who excelled at the Santosh Trophy and youth competitions, namely Manvir Singh and Davinder Singh.
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Three of India's four-man defense line were booked against Syria. Another yellow card for either of Nishu Kumar, Jerry Lalrinzuala and skipper Lalruatthara will mean suspension against Turkmenistan on Sunday.
Goalkeepers: 1. Vishal Kaith, 16. Kamaljit Singh, 23. Sukhadev Patil;
Defenders: 2. Nishu Kumar, 3. Lalruatthara, 4. Salam Ranjan Singh, 5. Sairuatkima, 13. Kamalpreet Singh, 18. Jerry Lalrinzuala, 21. Sarthak Golui, 22. Davinder Singh;
Midfielders: 6. Germanpreet Singh, 7. Nikhil Poojary, 8. Vinit Rai, 14. Lallianzuala Chhangte, 15. Sekar Nandhakumar, 17. Jerry Mawihmingthanga, 19. Anirudh Thapa, 20. Robinson Singh;
Forwards: 9. Manvir Singh, 10. Daniel Lalhlimpuia, 11. Hitesh Sharma, 12. Alen Deory.
Goalkeepers: 1. Mohd Al Bakri, 21. Meshaal Barsham, 22. Mohd Saeed Ibrahim;
Defenders: 3. Salah Al Yahri, 5. Tameem Al Muhaza, 6. Salem Al Hajri, 12. Adel Al Sulaimani, 13. Sultan Al Brake, 15. Bassam Al Rawi, 23. Abdul Hamid Al Diri;
Midfielders: 2. Tarek Salman, 4. Omar Al Emadi, 7. Khalid Mazeed, 8. Ahmad Doozandeh, 11. Nasser Al Nasr, 14. Ahmed Al Sadi, 16. Abdul Rahman Al Deri, 17. Abdel Rahman Moustafa, 18. Assim Madibo, 20. Abdullah Abdulsalam;
Forwards: 9. Meshaal Al Shamari, 10. Akram Afif, 19. Almoez Ali.
Stephen Constantine heaped praise on the hosts, saying, "They look very quick at times. They have an utmost quality I must say. It'll be a big challenge for us against them."
"A lot of players from that batch (2016) might have graduated to the senior team. Their main advantage is that they're having the same coach throughout," the London-born analysed that it was a different Qatar side from their fourth-placed finish in the 2016 edition finals.
"Playing a late evening match, that too at their home is really going to be advantageous for them. When you're playing at this stage, you want the stadium to be full. It keeps the adrenaline flowing amongst the players. Personally, I hope a good number of Indians will turn out in our support tomorrow," he concluded.
After an insipid display in a 2-0 defeat against the Syria, the order looks too tall for India to climb. Even Qatar won their respective game against Turkmenistan with the same margin, which left both the losers from the first round to register nothing less than a win to stay alive.
Constantine started with two men up front with Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Manvir Singh which failed to pay many dividends. However, it was only the holding midfielder, Germanpreet Singh's solitary shot on goal which troubled the Syrian 'keeper on Wednesday evening.
In what was a mere coincidence, the choice of fielding three conventional left-backs in the XI backfired as each of them went into the referee's book, suspension now lurking as a danger if repeated against Qatar.
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Though Vishal Kaith was on the receiving end of Syria scoring two goals, his second half save from a set-piece drew much praise and the FC Pune City man will be trusted to guard what is a fragile back line for the Colts.
The Indian defenders will have their platter full in keeping Qatar's number 10, Akram Afif in check. The 20-year-old is the first Qatari signing of the La Liga, brought by Villareal CF in 2016. The youngster who has also played for Sevilla's youth teams already has 16 international caps and two senior goals to his name.
His talent was on full show in the first game as a brace within the first quarter of an hour sealed the deal for his nation as he was subbed off with twenty minutes still on the clock. He too is on a booking.
Changes in the XI is not expected from India. The midfield trio of Nikhil Poojary, Anirudh Thapa and Sekar Nandhakumar though, will be closely scrutinised for they went missing in large parts of the game on Wednesday.