Guwahati: Sitting in an advantageous position, an upbeat Indian football team will take a shot at qualification to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup when it hosts Laos in the second-leg play-off match in Guwahati on Tuesday.
India emerged victorious in the first-leg in Vientiane 1-0, riding on striker Jeje Lalpekhlua's winner to hand the team an upper hand going into the the upcoming game at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Sarusajai.
India had won just one match in eight outings in the joint 2019 Asian Cup and 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and that has left them to feature in these play-off matches to earn the right to play in the qualifying round of the continent's flagship football tournament.
Last week's win was a relief for Englishman Stephen Constantine, whose future has been under the scanner after a series of poor shows by the national team under his charge.
India, ranked 163rd in the FIFA charts, dominated throughout the match in Vientiane and did most of the attacking against the 174th ranked side who had to defend their citadel for most part and rely on occasional counter attacks.
Despite missing as many as six starting members due to injuries, India were not only able to secure the win but also went on to break the jinx of not having scripted an away win in a qualifier since 2001.
Mohun Bagan forward Jeje Lalpekhlua would look to continue his rich vein of form.
India will hope to count on home advantage on Tuesday, and with the Northeast being a football-loving region, the team will hope that thousands will throng the stadium to support the national team.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri will be the man to watch out for upfront. The attention will also be on home boy midfielder Holicharan Narzary.
The Indian team had their first practice session on Sunday evening under the lights after their arrival from Vientiane.
India may have an edge going into the match, but they will have to guard against complacency. They had nemerous chances to score, but could find the net only once. They will have to be clinical in their approach on Tuesday.
There's an influx of youngsters in the new-look Indian side at the moment, and Constantine would look upto them to deliver the goods in front of what is expected to be a sold-out crowd.
India were lucky to have come out unscathed as Laos wasted a golden chance to equalise in the third minute of the injury time.
India head coach Stephen Constantine said that his job is still "half done and anything can happen in the next 90 minutes".
"Laos are not a bad side and they worked very hard in the first leg. We have to concentrate on tomorrow's game and aim to win. It starts 0-0 tomorrow and we have no room for complacency against them (Laos). We respect Laos but we will try to beat them," Constantine said at the pre-match press conference.
"We are missing key players such Robin Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Rowlin Borges, Bikash Jairu, Cavin Lobo, Pronay Halder — all of whom may have started tomorrow," he added.
He said his main objective was to build a team for the future.
"Had I not backed the 25 players to make debut for India, we may not have been able to put in a squad against Laos tomorrow. But we are not complaining," Constantine said.
"There's competition for almost every position now. That's such a healthy sign.
"One of my objectives was to reach the last stages of qualifiers of the AFC Asian Cup 2019. If we win tomorrow, that happens," he added.
Captain Sunil Chhetri said that India will start from the scratch tomorrow, despite the 1-0 win in the first leg.
"We are approaching the game from the scratch and the only advantage that we have is that we have played them and we know them. Apart from that there is no advantage," said Chhetri.
"But we are ready for Laos and we need to win this match for the fans," he said.
Published Date: Jun 06, 2016 09:30 pm | Updated Date: Jun 06, 2016 09:30 pm