Chhetri-led India gear up for Macau challenge
Riding on the back of a 10-match unbeaten run, India travel to Macau for the all-important 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group A qualifiers. Their nine-match winning streak may have been halted by Saint Kitts and Nevis in a 1-1 draw in the Hero Tri-Nation Series, but the Blue Tigers will still start as favourites in their next big challenge.
Leading Group A with a 100% record after victories over Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic, visitors India seem confident to notch up their third victory in the group against the team ranked 183rd in the FIFA rankings; a victory which would all but seal their progress into the competition slated to be held in the United Arab Emirates.
The Indian team is likely to be stronger than the squad that represented the country in the tri-series as the qualifiers will witness the return of the Bengaluru FC players who missed the friendlies due to club commitments. This means that all-time top scorer Sunil Chhetri will be back to donning the captain’s armband; and the 33-year-old, who scored both the winners against Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic, will once again look to play a crucial role.
Former Stabaek FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who recently signed up for Hero Indian Super League (ISL) debutants Bengaluru FC, will once more be present between the sticks. Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua had a quiet tri-series by his standards, but both Balwant Singh and Robin Singh had good outings. All three attackers will be eager to find the back of the net against the team at the bottom of Group A. Sandesh Jhingan was the stand-in captain during Chhetri’s absence and alongside Anas Edathodika, he marshalled a solid backline well. The presence of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh and the tireless Halicharan Narzary gives the midfield a very aggressive look as well. Head coach Stephen Constantine can also call upon the services of some talented young guns like Jerry Lalrinzuala and Nikhil Poojary if the need arises.
Hosts Macau have been struggling to find form, coming off the back of a 4-0 thrashing by Hong Kong in an international friendly and having lost both their Group A fixtures against Myannmar and Kyrgyz Republic conceding 5 goals while failing to score. ‘2011 Macau Footballer of the Year’ Leong Ka Hang is still only 24 years of age, and the ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the 2016 Solidarity Cup will lead the attacking line for his team. They can also count on the services of 33-year-old Paulo Cheang Leong, who is a versatile midfielder with plenty of experience on his side.
All in all, India look good to make it three wins in three and seal a place in the all-important AFC Asian Cup.
Macau vs India kicks off at 5:00 PM IST and will be broadcast LIVE on Star Sports, Hotstar and Jio TV.