As India qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup with a thumping win over Macau last month, their game against Myanmar on Tuesday doesn't have a significant context to it. But for a team who have won all the four matches in the qualifiers, and for a team who are unbeaten in the last 12 matches, maintaining the winning momentum should be the ultimate goal when they take on Myanmar at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao.
It's quite strange when the words like 'winning momentum' and 'unbeaten' are associated with Indian football. For a longest of time, India's senior football team suffered from bouts of inconsistency and under-performance. The team did manage to make it to the 2011 Asian Cup, but after that, they went through a turmoil and their FIFA ranking went as low as 173 in March, 2015.
Now ranked 105, thanks partly to understanding the rankings mathematics and also the unbeaten run under head coach Stephen Constantine, it can be said that the team is on right track.
Last time when India and Myanmar met in Yangon, Sunil Chhetri's terrific goal at the death separated the two sides. Playing in front of home crowd, Myanmar clearly dominated the game, but they couldn't make most of their chances. This time too, Myanmar are expected to be more offensive than India, considering the fact that stakes are much higher for them when compared to the host nation.
After India's qualification from the group, there's spot for one more team to qualify and that's why the Tuesday game holds more relevance to Myanmar as they are placed third on the table but level on four points with Kyrgyz Republic, who are in second spot.
One of the major factors in India's resurgence over the last year or is their solid defensive setup. The centre-back partnership of Anas Edathodika and Sandesh Jhingan has worked really well for the team while the full-backs Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das don't easily stumble under pressure. All four players are likely to start against Myanmar along with goalkeeper Gupreet Singh Sandhu barring any last-minute injuries.
India's biggest worry going into the match is the absence of two key players. Midfield anchor Rowllin Borges and striker Balwant Singh will miss the game due to injuries and India will have a hard time coping up without them.
Borges has been one of the most consistent players for India, the go-to-man when it comes to breaking opponents' play. Constantine will have to figure out a way to keep his midfield intact without the influential Borges.
On the other hand, Constantine will miss the services of in-form Balwant, who proved his mettle by disturbing opposition's defence with his sprints in the previous matches. He scored a brace after entering the field as substitute against Macau in the second-half, and then during the return leg in India, he was instrumental in turning the game around when he was introduced post the 45-minute mark.
Without two important players, India will be dependent on already burdened Chhetri, to make sure that the team doesn't falter against Myanmar. India's talismanic captain has already scored three goals from the four qualifiers and he will hope to reciprocate his goal-scoring form on Tuesday.
Last week, Myanmar pulled off a 2-1 victory against Cambodia in a friendly match so they will face India with confidence on their side. Ahead of the match, Myanmar's coach Gerd Zeise spoke about India's defence and why that's an area that concerns his team.
"India are really good at defending and we have to absolutely on our toes to penetrate them. I would like to congratulate them on their success but tomorrow (Tuesday) we have to take our chances to go back with a positive result,” Zeise said.
Zeise will also hope that his two forwards — Kyaw Ko and Ko Aung Thu — become a menace for Indian defenders. They created a lot of trouble last time when these two sides met in March this year, but weren't able to finish it for their team.
“I admit that they had a lot of ball possession. They kept us under tremendous pressure throughout. But at the end of the day, we took all three points. I will any day take three points at the end, no matter who has more ball possession,” Chhetri said to reporters on Monday.
At the outset, it looks like it will a battle between Myanmar's offence against India's compact defense. The Blue Tigers will look at the match as the start of their preparations for the 2019 Asian Cup in UAE while Myanmar will be hoping to keep their dream of qualifying to main tournament intact with a win over India.
Updated Date: Nov 14, 2017 09:14 AM