Constantine's boys are confident ahead of Kyrgyz Republic clash

On paper, India, who are on a seven-match winning streak, look the stronger side but 132nd ranked Kyrgyz Republic could spring a surprise.

The Indian squad training ahead of its clash against Kyrgyz Republic on Tuesday.   -  Murali Kumar

India and Kyrgyz Republic, the two best sides in the group, face each other in a 2019 AFC Asian Cup (third round) qualifier, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Tuesday.

On paper, India (FIFA world ranking 100) looks the stronger side, but Kyrgyz Republic (FIFA world ranking 132) could spring a surprise. The home team is on a seven-match winning streak, dating back to June last year. In its opening group match, against Myanmar, a Sunil Chhetri injury-time goal gave the unit a 1-0 victory. More recently, the Indians got past Nepal 2-0 in a friendly outing.

Coach Stephen Constantine chose not to dwell on the difference in the world rankings between the two outfits. “The outcome of the game does not depend on the ranking, it depends on who has more desire,” he said, at the pre-match press conference here on Monday.

Chhetri, who sat out of the Nepal encounter to recover from a hamstring injury, returns to action. His Bengaluru FC mates C.K. Vineeth and Udanta Singh, however, will miss the tie due to injuries.

The skipper spoke about the upbeat mood in the dressing room - a result of recent successes. “It’s been a while since an Indian team has felt this sort of confidence. Our guys are not sulking, we aren’t pointing fingers at each other. This is always a good feeling,” Chhetri said.

Kyrgyz Republic, on the other hand, has built a reputation of being a tough defensive unit. In the last five matches, the visitor has conceded just the solitary goal.

The back-line is led by Viktor Maier, who represents FC Emmen in the Netherlands second-tier club competition. Experienced captain Edgar Bernhardt plays for SV Rodinghausen in the German semi-professional circles. A few others compete in Bahrain. The Indians can take comfort from the fact that none of the opposition players turn out for big clubs.

Despite holding all the aces, Constantine was happy to concede that it was Kyrgyz Republic which started as the favourite. This was readily accepted by his opposite number, Aleksandr Krestinin. “Yes, we are the favourite. We want to do well and finish first in our group,” Krestinin said.

These are still early stages in the race to book a spot in the 2019 UAE AFC Asian Cup main draw. Both sides have another four matches remaining after this, but a hefty early push - in the form of the three points on offer here - will do no harm.

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