After holding Asian Champions Qatar to a goalless draw, India would look to secure all the three points when they take on Bangladesh in the FIFA World Cup qualifying match at the Saltlake Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Led by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the Blue Tigers displayed a gritty show against an attacking Qatar to earn their first point of the qualifiers just days after suffering a heartbreaking loss in the opening match against Oman in Guwahati.
With international football returning to Kolkata after a long gap of nine years, the euphoria around the match has been immense with a mad rush for tickets as the Saltlake Stadium is set to witness a packed house, providing the hosts a perfect stage to secure their first win and keep their World Cup hopes alive.
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Ahead of the clash, the hosts suffered a huge setback as defender Sandesh Jhingan sustained an injury on his left knee, during India’s friendly clash against ISL club NorthEast United. However, the return of talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri after missing the last game will lift the team’s spirit.
In his last appearance, the Indian skipper scored his 72nd international goal, the second-most among active players, as India put up a dominating first-half display only to go down 1-2 after conceding late goals in their World Cup qualifier against Oman in Guwahati.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu took the charge in Chhetri’s absence and thwarted a barrage of attacks from Qatar, making 11 saves in a heroic display to snatch a point from the 2022 World Cup hosts.
While defence, tactical formation, and discipline were the highlights of their match against Qatar, the focus against Bangladesh, who are ranked 83 places below India, would be on the strikers.
Chhetri will remain the go-to man in the attacking zone, but the onus will also be on the likes of Balwant Singh and Manvir Singh to make an impact, something former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia has highlighted.
“It’s only Sunil who’s able to score. If he’s not playing or does not score it becomes very, very difficult. We need to improve our forward lineup. In this Bangladesh game, it’s going to be a big test for the strikers. It’s not the defence but the forward line will have to deliver,” Bhutia said.
Chhetri will also have the support of his Bengaluru FC teammates Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan, while Mandar Rao Desai and Sahal Abdul Samad will be key in creating chances.
As for the backline, Stimac will be forced to rejig his central-defence with Anas Edathodika likely to pair up with Adil Khan in front of Sandhu. Jhingan’s injury gives Anas with a perfect opportunity to prove himself again, especially after returning from retirement.
India failed to keep up the intensity in the final minutes because of fitness concerns against Oman but Stimac addressed the issue against Qatar. And it will be interesting to see how the Blue Tigers cope up with the challenge against Bangladesh, who have eight under-23 players in their squad.
Bangladesh head to the match after two consecutive defeats. They lost narrowly to Afghanistan and in their last match before going down 0-2 to Qatar. But the Jamie Day-coached side has put up a strong fight and created many chances in the two games.
The Englishman may have conceded that India are firm favourites but Bangladesh will certainly look to make an impact with their forward duo of Nabib Newaz Ziban and Saad Uddin.
On paper, India enjoy a commanding 15-2 head-to-head record in 28 meetings but Bangladesh have managed to stay unbeaten in their last two fixtures (1-1 in SAFF Championships, 2013 and 2-2 in an International friendly, 2014).
(With PTI inputs)