AFC Asian Cup qualifiers: India looks to draw strength from Afghanistan win to prevail over Hong Kong

Both India and Hong Kong are tied on top with six points from two wins each but the latter currently holds the top spot because of a better goal difference.

Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, scored three out India’s four goals in the tournament and Stimac will bank on his skills to get past the Hong Kong hurdle.   -  PTI

India looked to draw motivation from its “dramatic” win against Afghanistan as it prepared to face a technically strong Hong Kong in the concluding group D fixture of the AFC Asian Cup qualifying final round, at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.

Interestingly, the last match of the group league has turned out to be a virtual decider where the two top two sides of the current standings meet to decide the group topper.Both India and Hong Kong are tied on top with six points from two wins each but the latter currently holds the top spot because of a better goal difference.

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Given the situation, India needs a win to secure the top spot and ensure its passage to Asian Cup 2023 final stage. There are some spots reserved for the best second finishers but Indian head coach Igor Stimac preferred his team to be taking the straight-forward route.

“We play to win tomorrow and qualify on merit. I don’t want to get into the complexities of mathematical calculations as it does not help in the end,” Stimac said on the eve of the match. “We are up against a technically strong team but we have to go out and start from the very first minute like we did against Afghanistan. I would expect my players to recall the passion, attitude and the hunger that we showed against our previous opponent when taking on Hong Kong,” he added.

The Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, who scored three out India’s four goals in the tournament so far and took his personal tally to 83 international goals, said the team needs to start from where it left off against Afghanistan. “It is a very important game and we have to start from where we left off in our previous win,” Chhetri said. India’s recent record against Hong Kong is not very favourable. The national team last beat Hong Kong last almost three decades ago in 1993 in a World Cup qualifying match. Since then the two have met only thrice (in 2006, 2009 and 2010) in international friendlies where Hong Kong has won the recent two while the other match ended in a draw.

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A lot has happened in the long time since the two sides met in a competitive format. India’s development efforts in the past decade have taken the national side’s FIFA ranking to a fairly level (which currently is 106). “We have to come out with a tiger’s heart in every match when we put on the national colours. This should be the main attitude of the players who need to convince everyone that whatever way we are physically built, we have a big heart,” Stimac said.

The Hong Kong coach Jorn Andersen said his team came with little expectations before the tournament but after winning successive matches the level of confidence is much higher now. “For us the situation is really positive. We didn’t expect it when we were coming here, but we have already made two good games and taken six points,” he said.

The former DPR Korea coach said that his team is in a good rhythm and will be able to solve the problem of having to play in front of a huge home crowd. “India will have the big advantage of playing at home in front of maybe 50,000 spectators and that’s something we have to solve. But we have experienced players, we have a good collective team and I think we can solve this problem,” Andersen said.

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