Indian men’s football team will look to get off the mark in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 as they take on Uzbekistan in the second group match at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Thursday. 

The Blue Tigers went down 0-2 to Australia in the opening match of the AFC Asian Cup. They dished out a resolute performance but it wasn’t enough to get them anything tangible. 

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The Uzbekistan clash thus attains even more importance with India needing at least a point to maintain a good chance of progressing to the knockout stage for the first time in their history. 

FIFA Ranking

India: 102

Uzbekistan: 68

The task will be cut out for the Blue Tigers against Uzbekistan who are ranked 34 places above them in the FIFA rankings. However, the fact that Igor Stimac’s men made Australia, who were ranked 77 places above them, in the same chart will give them the confidence to achieve a positive result against Uzbekistan. 

Form Guide

India: LLWLL 

After an incredible run in 2023, India’s form has dipped in recent times, largely due to the team facing stronger opponents but the Blue Tigers will have to overcome this record against higher-ranked sides if they are to entertain thoughts of reaching the next round. A 1-0 win away to Kuwait in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the most important they have played in these last five matches after the opening match against Australia will give them the confidence of delivering on the big stage. 

Uzbekistan: WDWWD

Uzbekistan are unbeaten in their last eight matches in all competitions and have lost just two of their last 25 matches. After a turbulent ride in 2020 and 2021, the team has picked up form over the last few years which has led to the team climbing places in the FIFA rankings. 

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The White Wolves have played in their eighth straight AFC Asian Cup and have advanced to the knockout stages of the competition in their last five appearances. 

2023 was a good year for Uzbekistan with draws against Iran and Mexico and wins over Bolivia, China, Vietnam and Palestine. 

Head-to-head record

India have never beaten Uzbekistan who have won four out of the six meetings against the Blue Tigers. The men in blue have lost the last four encounters against the Central Asian side with the last draw between the two teams coming back in 1998. 

The two sides haven’t met since 2001 and India have a chance to script a new chapter in their history against Uzbekistan. 

Key battles

Sandesh Jhingan vs Oston Urunov: India are expected to have plenty of defending to do against Uzbekistan and their defence will hold the key to success on Thursday. Sandesh Jhingan is India’s leader in defence and produced an inspirational performance against Australia. The Blue Tigers will once again rely on him to marshall the troops at the back and lead by example. 

Jhingan will come up against Oston Urunov who has been deployed in centre-forward position in recent games. Primarily a winger, Urunov has shone in the position scoring four goals in 19 games for his country. Still just 23, he has been in fine form and has scored against Iran and Vietnam in recent times. 

Lalengmawia Ralte vs Otabek Shukurov: Lalengmawia Ralte or Apuia as he is popularly known was one of India’s best players against Australia with a 96% passing accuracy. Apuia has the ability to link the defence to attack, something which the Indians need to do more effectively against Uzbekistan. Apuia also has lot of energy and a great positional sense that makes him a complete midfielder. He is thus equally effective in thwarting attacks and turning the possession over. 

Apuia though will come up against a top-quality opponent in Otabek Shukurov who is the second-most experienced player in the Uzbek ranks. Known to pull strings in midfield, Shukurov is a big-game player and has a knack for scoring goals in crunch games with recent strikes against China, Mexico and Turkmenistan providing examples of his quality.

Sunil Chhetri vs Rustam Ashurmatov: Sunil Chhetri had India’s best chance against Australia and we expect the Indian captain to be India’s biggest goal threat against Uzbekistan too given his eye for goal and his ability to step up in big games. He has scored four goals in six AFC Asian Cup matches and the Uzbekistan defenders will be wary of his predatory instincts.

The Uzbek backline has a fine balance of youth and experience and Rustam Ahurmatov is the most experienced of the lot with 28 national team appearances. He played for Russian side Rubin Kazan and has a taste of high-level competition. 

Match Details and Telecast: 

Date: January 18, 2023

Time: 8 PM IST

Venue: Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, All Rayyan, Qatar

Telecast: Sports18 and Jio Cinema (Live streaming)