Red-hot India will be confident ahead of stiff UAE test
Stephen Constantine’s Blue Tigers go into their second group A match against hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) full of confidence after dismantling Thailand 4-1 in their 2019 AFC Asian Cup opener at the Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. The win took Constantine’s men top of the group while UAE’s 1-1 draw with Bahrain meant that they had to settle for third spot by the end of the first round of matches. The draw, however, may make the Emiratis more dangerous and a hungrier proposition for India to deal with ahead of the showdown clash at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Thursday.
Despite starting slowly, the Indian national football team showed fantastic mentality to stay in the contest before coming back with three second-half strikes to down Thailand in their first group A fixture. Once again, the heroic Sunil Chhetri led from the front with a brace of the highest quality.
However, the most pleasing thing about the win for head coach Constantine would have been the collective effort shown by each of his players. Anas Edathodika, especially, enjoyed a commanding afternoon at the back. Udanta Singh’s two assists from the wings also vindicated Constantine’s trust in the Bengaluru FC youngster.
More of the same would be what the Englishman will be demanding as he tries to orchestrate another masterclass and defeat the hosts to secure qualification to the next round. Facing the Whites though will present a different sort of test for his side given the fact that the Blue Tigers will be in the firing line in front of more than 40,000 vociferous UAE supporters.
Tactically, the Whites are much more astute and prefer to play with an extra man in midfield which could increase the workload on Pronay Halder and Anirudh Thapa. Constantine will surely be aware that and will know that a point wouldn’t be too bad for his side either as UAE, on paper, represent the Blue Tigers’ toughest challenge in the group.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
As hosts for the second oldest continental football tournament in the world for the first time since 1996, Alberto Zaccheroni’s men hardly had an ideal start after finding it hard to breach Bahrain's defence. They eventually had to rely on a late penalty from substitute Ahmed Khalil to spare their blushes and earn them a point in the tournament opener.
Failure to make their healthy possession count was just one of the multiple issues that Zaccheroni needs to address before his side face group leaders India. The Whites will be hoping to call upon the services of veteran defender Ismail Ahmed from the start after seeing their rear-guard fail to cope with Bahrain's attack last time around.
The absence of iconic midfielder Omar Abdulrahman was also felt by the 1996 Asian Cup runners-up, who were bereft of ideas in attack against a team ranked 34 places below them in the FIFA world rankings. Zaccheroni will surely ring the changes against the Blue Tigers and could hand a start to Saturday’s goal scorer Khalil and midfielder Saif Rashid.
Zaccheroni won the 2011 AFC Asian Cup with Japan but he has come under increased pressure having emerged victorious in just five of his 17 games in-charge of the Whites. Defeat against India is certain to have major ramifications for the Italian gaffer since it can seriously dent UAE’s hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stage.
INDIA: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Subhasish Bose, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan, Pritam Kotal, Halicharan Narzary, Pronay Halder, Anirudh Thapa, Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri
UAE: Khalid Eisa (GK), Ismail Ahmed, Fares Juma, Alhasan Saleh, Bandar Al Ahbabi, Ali Salmeen, Amer Abdulrahman, Saif Rashid, Ismail Al Hammadi, Ahmed Khalil, Ali Mabkhout
Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network and Hotstar at 9.30 PM on Thursday.