India face tough UAE challenge in second international friendly

After earning a well-deserved 1-1 draw against Oman in the first of two international friendlies, the Indian national team will take on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on Monday. An unfortunate Amrinder Singh own goal before the halftime break gave Oman the lead during Thursday’s friendly, but Manvir Singh’s goal in the second half restored parity between the two teams.

Heading into Monday’s fixture, India have faced UAE 14 times in the past, losing nine, winning twice and drawing three times. They have not beaten UAE in their previous six encounters with the last win coming back in 2001. UAE are currently 30 ranks above India at 74 in the FIFA rankings and the two sides last met during the group stage of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup when UAE secured a 2-0 win over the Blue Tigers.

Since then, a lot has changed in Indian football. Although some players involved in the last tournament are still a part of head coach Igor Stimac’s plans, the success of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 has paved the way for many young talents.

As many as 10 players debuted in the match against Oman. One of the debutants Bipin Singh was involved in the equalising goal, continuing his fine form from Hero ISL 2020-21 with Mumbai City FC. It was his cross that was headed into the net by Manvir. Coming up against a more physical side, the 26-year-old winger will be looking to kick on and have more of an impact.

It will be interesting to see the line-up that the Croat chooses to field given the strength of their opponents. India will be eager to avoid a repeat of their first half display against Oman come Monday as they target a solid start to the game. After halftime against Oman, Lalengmawia and Raynier Fernandes came off the bench and helped establish control for India in midfield. Stimac can hand them their first starts for India against UAE or use his more experienced midfield options like Rowllin Borges and Anirudh Thapa.

At the back, Stimac experimented with a new-look defence against Oman as Chinglensana Singh, Akash Mishra and Ashutosh Mehta made their debuts. The back four made it hard for the opponents to create any chances, particularly, in the closing stages of the match, which was a positive for their head coach heading into the UAE game. Stimac also has the option of using the likes of Pritam Kotal, Mandar Rao Dessai and Adil Khan in defence.

Meanwhile, UAE will head into the contest with confidence even though consistency has been an issue for Bert van Marwijk's side. After a bright start to their FIFA World Cup qualifiers with wins over Malaysia and Indonesia, they narrowly lost to Thailand and Vietnam.

Star striker Ali Mabkhout, who is UAE's all-time top goal-scorer with 60 goals, will lead their frontline. Mabkhout also scored in the 2-0 win over India in their last AFC Asian Cup meeting, while midfielder Khalfan Mubarak netted the other. Mabkhout was also the top-scorer in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and has six goals in the ongoing qualifiers, including a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Indonesia.

The 27-member India squad:

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Dheeraj Singh.

Defenders: Ashutosh Mehta, Akash Mishra, Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Chinglensana Singh, Adil Khan, Mandar Rao Dessai, Mashoor Shereef.

Midfielders: Rowllin Borges, Lalengmawia, Jeakson Singh, Raynier Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa, Bipin Singh, Mohammed Yasir, Suresh Singh, Halicharan Narzary, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Hitesh Sharma.

Forwards: Manvir Singh, Ishan Pandita, Liston Colaco.

Match starts 8:30 pm IST.

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