The Blue Tigers return back on the pitch after a gap of seven months as they take on Cambodia on Wednesday at Phnom Penh in an international friendly.
Being their first match since knowing that they will be pitting their strengths against the likes of Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Macau for qualification to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, this offers India a good opportunity to get their tactics right before the big games start rolling.
KNOW YOUR RIVALS - Cambodia
India’s last run out came when they hammered the higher-ranked Puerto Rican outfit 4-1 in a comeback victory in September, with Narayan Das, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sunil Chhetri and Jackichand Singh getting on the scoresheet for the hosts.
Cambodia, ranked 173rd in the world and 41 places below The Blue Tigers (132nd), come on the back of a horrific 7-2 thrashing at the hands of Saudi Arabia in January.
The disappointment from that game, part of a five-game losing run, led to the appointment of Brazilian Leonardo Vitorino in place of Lee Tae-hoon, who will be taking over the reins of the Koupreys for the first time.
India’s second game during this ongoing international break will be their AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against Myanmar, so this game assumes all the more importance as not only will it be a dress rehearsal ahead of the bigger game in sight, but it will also be a chance for the players to shrug off any rustiness they might have.
India would expect to start with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal, who has impressed in no small amount since taking over the reins from veteran Subrata Paul who is expected to be Sandhu’s backup on the night.
The defense will take the familiar shape of Sandesh Jhingan and Arnab Mondal being flanked by Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das. Anas Edathodika could be in contention for a debut as well in place of Jhingan, who has not had the best of seasons so far with Bengaluru FC.
The midfield, however, paints a grim picture for The Blue Tigers, who will be without the services of the injured Pronay Halder and with Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s poor form a concern. Even the players who could step in and helm the midfield such as Jackichand Singh, Rowllin Borges and Mohammed Rafique haven’t seen a lot of game time during the domestic season and it will be interesting to see how well they can adapt to the fast pace of international football.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri could form a partnership with Jeje Lalpekhlua up front, but given the latter’s indifferent recent form and Robin Singh’s good touch, a swap wouldn’t be out of the question.
Stephen Constantine, throughout his tenure as the head coach of the Indian team, has made it a point to hand out plenty of youngsters and newcomers their debuts. With four possible debutants in the squad, in the form of Anas Edathodika, Nishu Kumar, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Milan Singh, it would be a huge surprise if none of them take the field at some point in time on Wednesday.
One thing that would irk Constantine is the fact that the Olympic Stadium has an artificial turf. Constantine had specifically wished for a grass pitch that would help them better prepare for the clash against Myanmar, which is on a grass pitch.
Cambodia arrive into this fixture with a handful of regulars not being part of an unusually youthful squad. However, in terms of the starting eleven, Vitorino is expected to retain majority of those who were thrashed 2-7 at Abu Dhabi in January. Lack of options hampers Vitorino's cards for selections but he will be relieved that both Chan Vathanaka and Thierry Bin will be back with the squad after they missed the last match in UAE.
However, they will display their usual quick interplay, with a combination of long and short passes, and will come onto the pitch full of grit despite their indifferent form. An area of concern for them is their ability, or lack thereof, to defend aerial balls, which could be another incentive for Constantine to start Robin instead of Jeje.
They are expected to line up in a 4-4-2 formation with star frontman Chan Vathanaka leading the line with Khoun Laboravy.
Playing between the lines will be Prak Mony Udom, with Chrerng Polroth, Sos Suhana and Thierry Chantha Bin forming the base of the midfield.
Soeuy Visal, Samoeun Pidor, Chhom Pisa and Rous Samoeun will make up the four-man defense, with skipper Um Sereyroth taking guard between the sticks.
The last time India faced the South-east Asian nation was in the 2007 Nehru Cup opener at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi. The scoreline read 6-0 in favour of the hosts then. Current skipper Sunil Chhetri netted a brace; so did Steven Dias. NP Pradeep also scored from a long-ranger and skipper Bhaichung Bhutia added one from the spot. The half-a-dozen goal spanking nine-and-a-half years ago still remains India's largest victory by margin of goals at home.
Indian fans will be up with expectations of something similar again, but all said and done, this game will just be an opportunity for Constantine’s men to stretch their legs and get ready for next week’s game against Myanmar.
Kick-off is at 6:30 PM local time (5:00 PM IST) at the Olympic Stadium off Charles de Gaulle Boulevard.
THREE KEY FACTS
- Last time these two sides played, India won 6-0 which is still a record for the highest margin of victory by goals for India at home.
- Cambodia have been winless in their last five games. India have won their last four games straight.
- India have won only once and lost four games against ASEAN opponents away in the last ten years.