India's opponents...For the first time ever the Indian national team will have to go past the qualifiers of the AFC Challenge Cup. The 2008 winners have been drawn in Group B alongside 2010 runners-up Turkmenistan, arch-rivals Pakistan and East Asian outfit Chinese Taipei.
Each team will play each other once with the top two qualifying for the final rounds, to be held next year. All the six qualifying games of Group B will be played at the MBPJ Stadium, Petaling Jaya, in Malaysia.
Goal.com’s Amoy Ghoshal profiles India’s three opponents.
FIFA Ranking 147
Asian Ranking 25
Chinese Taipei have finished in the top four of the Asian Cup twice in the 60’s under the name of the Republic of China. But like many of the nations in the AFC Challenge Cup, they haven’t had any real success at international level in recent times. They reached the last eight of this competition in 2006 but failed to qualify for the last two editions, finishing third in their qualifying group each time. Last year for the third consecutive edition they finished sixth in the East Asian Football Championship.
Coached by Lo Chih-tsung, Chinese Taipei had to beat Laos over two legs to progress to the final rounds of the qualifiers. They won that tie 6-3 on aggregate and being the second highest ranked team in the group, the East Asian outfit will fancy their chances of finishing in the top two despite the presence of two former finalists in India and Turkmenistan.
Only Two Spots Below India
The midfielder is a former futsal player and has the distinction of being his country’s youngest ever captain at international level. Po-liang scored in both legs against Laos and will no doubt be one of Chinese Taipei’s most important players.
Han scored twice in th 5-2 win over Laos in the first leg of their preliminary qualifier. The 25 year old striker netted his country’s first ever goal against North Korea last year and will be looking to score freely in the three qualifying matches.
FIFA Ranking 171
Asian Ranking 34
Pakistan’s only notable recognition at international level has been their top-four finishes at the SAFF Cup. They did play in the 2006 edition of this competition, getting eliminated at the group stage, but the South Asian nation failed to qualify for the last two editions and are overwhelming underdogs of this group. But they will be boosted by the presence of their foreign based players including former Premier League defender Zesh Rehman.
As a part of their preparations for these three qualifying matches, Pakistan played two friendly matches against Palestine at home. They lost the first 2-1 and earned a 0-0 stalemate in the other game. The 22-member squad has 11 players from the Under-23 Olympic team that lost to Malaysia 2-0 on aggregate in the preliminary stage of the 2012 Olympic qualifiers. Pakistan will have nothing to lose against their higher ranked opponents and thus would be looking to cause an upset even if they fail to qualify.
The former Fulham central defender would require no introduction to Pakistan football fans and it will be a huge boost for the Pakistan team to have Rehman in the squad for these qualifiers. His experience at the heart of defence will be vital if Pakistan want to defy the odds.
Adnan Ahmed - A Former Man United Youth Team Member
The attacking midfielder is another foreign based player in the Pakistan squad, who would be eager to impress in national team colours and take his nation to the final rounds of the AFC Challenge Cup. Currently plying his trade with Iran’s F.C. Aboomoslem, Adnan will be a threat to all other teams in the group.
FIFA Ranking 154
Asian Ranking 29
Turkmenistan narrowly missed out on Asian Cup 2011 qualification as they lost the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup final to North Korea on penalties. The Central Asians were not expected to reach the final last time but after finishing second in a group that had North Korea and holders India, the Turkmen defeated Tajikistan in the semis and came ever so close to qualify for only their second Asian Cup.
That impressive showing in Sri Lanka last year will put pressure on this Turkmenistan side to qualify for the final rounds of the next edition with ease. Coach Yazguly Hojageldiyev conducted a training camp in Turkey with 25 players earlier this month and will be confident of finishing in the top two in this group. Turkmenistan are ranked below India and Chinese Taipei, but the advantage that they have in aerial and physical strength could be decisive.
The 28 year old striker scored two goals in the last edition and is one of the most experienced players in the Turkmenistan squad. Mammedaly is one of Turkmenistan’s biggest goal threats and he will be determined to make his mark in the qualifiers.
Nurmyradow was also part of the squad in the last edition and scored the crucial winner in the 1-0 victory against Kyrgyzstan in the group stage. The versatile 29 year old can be effective both in defence and from midfield and is vastly experienced.