Analysing the Blue Tigers' challengers at the Intercontinental Cup
The Hero Intercontinental Cup is just a few days away with India taking on Kenya, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei at the Mumbai Football Arena. The four-nation tournament will provide an opportunity for head coach Stephen Constantine to test the strength of his squad as they gear up for the AFC Asian Cup 2019. As the tournament inches closer, we profile India’s opponents and their recent form in the international stage.
The Blue Tigers host Chinese Taipei in the tournament opener on Friday. The Taipei side, who are currently ranked 121st in the world, have played India on eight occasions, with India winning four and losing two of them. However, Taipei come into this game on the back of some impressive results. They have won their last four games on the trot, including a 1-0 victory over Singapore early this year.
Chinese Taipei have not made a mark in the international scene for decades now, with their most notable result being a third-place finish in the 1960 Asian Cup. However, the arrival of coach Gary White has resulted in a change in fortune. Under his stewardship, they reached unprecedented heights as they achieved their best-ever FIFA-ranking in 2017. The Englishman has a particularly good record against the Indian team. White was the manager of the Guam national team which pulled off a shock 2-1 victory over India in a World Cup qualifier in 2015. And it won’t be a surprise if White’s men hope that they can pull off another major upset when they take the stage on Friday.
With the wealth of players at their disposal, Kenya come into this tournament as India’s most feared opponents. While the Harambee Stars have suffered a recent dip of form, they currently sit at 111 in the world — the highest among India’s opponents for the tournament.
Forward Michael Olunga will lead the line for the Kenyans. The 24-year-old, who is currently on loan at Girona FC, has all the qualities to cause problems for opposition defenders. Olunga has represented his nation on several occasions, coming up with crucial goals and assists. The Kenyans have never played on Indian soil before and will be hoping for a good result when they take on the Blue Tigers on the 4th of June.
Alarms bells went ringing when New Zealand head coach Fritz Schmid announced a relatively young squad for the Intercontinental Cup. The All Whites will be without key English Premier League players Winston Reid and Chris Wood and a host of other first-team regulars. A total of six uncapped players have been called up to the national squad for their trip to India, with the coach deploying a largely untried team.
New- Zealand sit in 133rd place in the FIFA rankings and have had a relatively poor run of form of late, failing to register a single victory in their last five games. However Schmid who was recently appointed as the head coach will be hoping to change the tide and stamp his authority on the side as they build towards the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The likes of youngsters Clayton Lewis and Tim Payne will have to step to the occasion for Schmid’s side to have any chance of attaining silverware.
While India might seem like the best team on paper, their opponents possess all the necessary assets to pose a challenging threat to Constantine’s men in Mumbai.