India got its AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign off to a glorious start by thwarting Thailand 4-1 and will look to go all guns blazing against host nation United Arab Emirates on Thursday. A win against UAE will all but guarantee the Indians a spot in the quarterfinal.
The odds, though, appear to be stacked in UAE's favour as the side coached by Alberto Zaccheroni has a better FIFA ranking of 79, has won 8 of the 13 games between the two sides and will be spurred on by the noisy home crowd. However, the Indians have the biggest advantage they need - three points to their name.
Stephen Constantine's men come into the tie on the back of a brilliant all-round performance that witnessed them claim their first win in the AFC Asian Cup in 55 years. The attacking line comprising Sunil Chhetri, Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh combined well and were at their menacing best, while the defensive unit led by Sandhesh Jhingan was fairly stable at the back. The defence did cave in to to the pacy Thai forwards at times but managed to get the job done effectively.
While the game against the Thais was tough, India will face a much stronger challenge from the Emiratis who will be raring to go after their 1-1 draw against Bahrain in the tournament opener. The Whites attacked relentlessly against Bahrain and ace striker Ali Mabkhout looked impressive in front of goal but the side lacked the desired finishing touch. The defence looked susceptible on the counter, especially on the right flank, and the Indians – who are known to attack on the counter and from the right flank through Udanta – will look to exploit that.
India coach Constantine is well aware of the opposition threat in store. “They didn't play to the best of their capabilities (against Bahrain). They'll be jacked up to play us tomorrow and will see this as an absolute must win. We came here to try to qualify from the group stage and we will give everything to try and do that. We're going for the win tomorrow,” he said on the eve of the match.
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The Englishman noted that the friendlies against Oman and Jordan were scheduled keeping in mind the two teams' similarities to UAE's style of play. “Oman are the Gulf Cup champions, so drawing with them was an encouraging result. We lost 2-1 in Oman with half a team and obviously, China was a great thing. There are similarities between Jordan and Oman with UAE and these were important games and that’s why we set them up. We planned everything till the last detail.
"We’ve taken the first step with the win against Thailand and now have a tough game against UAE, but we will fight as we have done in the past few years. We will try to get the result that we need,” he concluded.
After Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was given the captain's armband for the opening tie, Constantine, sticking to his rotation policy, has named Chhetri as skipper for the UAE clash.