Onus on attack as India host Bangladesh in must-win clash
After stellar performances against Oman and Asian champions Qatar, India take on Bangladesh at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata in a must-win tie in their third group stage match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint second round Qualifiers. Still with one point from two outings, it's imperative that the Blue Tigers register all three points from the tie to give themselves a realistic chance of moving onto the next stage. Bangladesh, meanwhile, lost 1-0 to Afghanistan in their first group stage match before going down 2-0 against Qatar on October 10.
While India led for most of the match against Oman courtesy of a goal by captain Sunil Chhetri, the Blue Tigers let the tie slip away from them after Oman scored two goals in the final eight minutes. Stimac's men followed it up with a solid defensive performance, inspired by a brilliant Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal, to help themselves to a historic goalless draw against reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar. There's a lot of expectations on the India team following the two performances and adding to the occasion will be the national team's return to Kolkata - the proverbial Mecca of Indian football - after eight long years. With the teams gunning for a win, fans can expect some attacking intent from both.
Keeping in mind the importance of the match, head coach Igor Stimac is expected to field his strongest possible 11 against Bangladesh. However, with an unfortunate injury to Sandesh Jhingan and midfielder Rowllin Borges missing due to bookings, the Croat will be without a couple of key players. On the bright side, however, ace striker Sunil Chhetri, who missed the Qatar match is expected to return and lead the line. Defender Rahul Bheke, who was earlier ruled out of the tie, has also been passed fit enough to be in the squad and will certainly soften the blow suffered by Jhingan's absence.
It will be interesting to see if Stimac opts to slot in Bheke in place of Jhingan at centre back or give Anas Edathodika his first start since coming out of retirement. Youngster Narender Gahlot is another option in Stimac's roster of defensive arsenal. With the onus on winning the home tie, Chhetri will be up top and is likely to be flanked by his Bengaluru FC teammates Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh. Ashique and Udanta's pace and bag of tricks down the flanks may turn out to be a handful for the Bangladesh backline.
With Rowllin out and Amarjit Singh Kiyam still nursing a hand injury, Vinit Rai may join Anirudh Thapa at the base of the midfield, with Sahal Abdul Samad taking up the mantle of the playmaker to help the offensive side of things.
The Indian squad will also be buoyed by the fact that they have won 15 of the 28 games against Bangladesh. Moreover, since their last meeting in 2014, the national side has improved leaps and bounds and their recent showings against Oman and Qatar bear testament to that.
Bangladesh, ranked 187th in the current FIFA Rankings, will need to be at the top of their game against the home side, ranked 104th, in order to get a positive result. Against Afghanistan, Bangladesh failed to get enough possession which cost them the match. At home against Qatar, however, the red and greens put on a commendable display despite going down 2-0 and can take heart from the performance going into the India match.
Current head coach Jamie Day, who took over in 2018, prefers to field a typical 4-4-2 formation with skipper Jamal Bhuiyan as the pivot at central midfield. Bhuiyan, born and raised in Denmark, has been an integral part of the Bangladesh national team since 2014 and is the team's engine. Twenty-five-year-old defender Yeasin Khan is another top prospect in the Bangladeshi team and will be seen taking point at centre back.
One player in the Bangladesh squad, who will be very familiar with the Indian team and the venue of the night will be midfielder Mamunul Islam. In 2014, under his captaincy, Bangladeshi club Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi finished runners up in the prestigious IFA Shield in Kolkata. The midfielder then signed for ATK for the inaugural edition of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL). He was in the squad but never made his debut for the club. With over 50 international caps to his name and his experience of having played in Kolkata, the veteran midfielder might have a key role to play in the match.
Catch the match LIVE 7 PM onwards on the Star Sports network and Hotstar on October 15.