Intercontinental Cup: India seek winning momentum by exploiting inexperienced Chinese Taipei in opener

India’s first match after the team qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup, essentially their first game in preparation for Asia’s showpiece event, turned out to be a 1-2 defeat against Kyrgyzstan. India had quite a few issues in the match, especially in defence when they couldn’t cope up with Kyrgyz attack. Two months from the loss, the Indian football team has an opportunity to understand whether they have sorted out those issues as they take on Chinese Taipei in the first match of the four-nation Intercontinental Cup at Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex.

Chinese Taipei, coached by Gary White, may not possess the attacking quality of Kyrgyzstan, considering they are missing key senior players, but the youthful side can certainly test the Indian defence with their pace and relentlessness. The key here will be the organisation of Indian defence. To frustrate their opponents, India should look to break the play and stop the Chinese Taipei from playing to their strengths.

File image of Indian football team. AP

File image of Indian football team. AP

India head coach Stephen Constantine has hinted that India will go into the match with their full strength. There will be no change in the centre-back pairing of Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika against Taipei. Pritam Kotal, who did not play against Kyrgyzstan, is likely to return to the playing XI in the right-back role. Narayan Das will face competition from Subashish Bose for left-back, but Constantine will likely go with the former.

The English coach could have used the services of Dhanapal Ganesh, who had a good season with Chennaiyin FC, but the defensive midfielder has been ruled out of the tournament due to typhoid. In the absence of Dhanapal, Md Rafique will play in the XI. Giving him company in the midfield will be Rowllin Borges. India will look to exploit the pace of Udanta Singh on the right while Halicharan Narzary will look to make an impact from the left.

The attack will be led by the ever-dependable Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua. Once again, the onus will be on Chhetri to create opportunities at the front and the skipper, who missed India’s last game against the Kyrgyz Republic due to suspension, will hope that his finishing skills are up to the mark.

India have good options on the bench with the likes of Anirudh Thapa of Chennaiyin FC and Ashique Kuruniyan of FC Pune City waiting to grab their chances in the playing XI. In the last domestic season, both players have done considerably well for their respective teams. Constantine also has the option of bringing Balwant Singh in the second half. The Mumbai City forward has the reputation of making an instant impact coming off the bench with his incessant running. His energy will be crucial for the Indian team in the second-half.

Chinese Taipei’s FIFA ranking of 121 might not put them in the favourites bracket against India, but under White, the team has improved leaps and bounds. White is not new to Indian football team as he scripted a famous 2-1 win in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers when he was the coach of the Guam national team. Chinese Taipei did not make it to the 2019 Asian Cup, but under White, the team has scored impressive victories against the likes of Bahrain and Mongolia.

There’s no doubt that the visitors have been performing well under White but for the Intercontinental Cup, they are in India with an inexperienced squad. According to White, “there are 10 U-23 players in the squad.” He said in the pre-match press conference that “there will be lots of debuts. There will be debuts for players in the 23-man squad and there will be debuts for players who have never played a first team game.”

One of the recognisable players in the Chinese Taipei team is Will Donkin. The teenager, who plays with Crystal Palace, will be the one to look out for as he will try to bring creativity and vision in the Chinese Taipei midfield.

On more than one occasion, Constantine said that they will use the Intercontinental Cup to prepare for next year’s Asian Cup. The inexperienced Taiwanese team may not be the ideal opponents for India to prepare for a big tournament like Asian Cup, but Constantine will look to get his team back to winning ways and ensure the players’ morale is up before they take on Kenya and New Zealand.

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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2018 13:47:11 IST

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