India will be looking to consolidate its position in the league standings when it takes on a strong Afghanistan side in the second round of the group D league fixtures of the AFC Asian Cup’s final round qualification, at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Saturday.
Having won its first match against Cambodia comfortably, India will have a more difficult task in the second meeting a more formidable opposition in the Afghans.
Measuring the threat perception ahead of the upcoming action, the Indian head coach Igor Stimac felt the “winning attitude” of the Afghanistan side will be the biggest challenge for his side. “Afghanistan will be coming out with a winning attitude which is based on the fact that many of their players have international football experience which is much higher than the level of ISL (Indian Super League).
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They get their confidence and arrogance from there,” Stimac said.
India enjoys a much better head-to-head record against Afghanistan. The Blue Tigers have won nine and lost just once in the 15 occasions the two national sides have met. Five matches have ended in a draw.
However, Stimac’s assessment of his opponent was largely based on the last two meetings (in the initial phase of Asian Cup qualifiers) where the Afghans seemed to be more dominant as India looked happy to be holding on to a draw.
Stimac set out the plan of action saying that his boys should be ready to play the aggressor this time. “We have to be ready to take control of the ball and make the opponent run. It should not be a situation where we chase their players,” he said. Stimac indicated will be looking for some changes in his side looking at the strengths of the Afghans but insisted on preferring a youthful side with players who can “play with speed and intensity.”
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There is a chance of Rahul Bheke getting back from injury to bolster the Indian defence, which seemed to suffer from a lack of cohesiveness against Cambodia.
“He (Rahul) should be ready. He will be competing for the starting lineup,” Stimac said while adding that the team will be decided after the final training session as the match against Cambodia seems to have been added to the injury list.
“We still haven't decided on that. There's still another night ahead of us, another training session. So we need to see how the players recover. But what I am sure about is we need all fully fit players and not anyone with any kind of injury on the pitch. So tomorrow after the team meetings and video meetings, we will decide on the starting lineup. But all options are open,” he said.
Afghanistan coach Anoush Dastgir hoped his team will be able to put the first-round loss to Hong Kong behind and make a turnaround against India. “It is a do-or-die match for us and I hope my players learn from the mistakes of the first match and give their 100 percent on the field against India. I know it will be a great game and we get the win that we have missed in the last two matches,” the Afghanistan coach stressed.
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“This match is going to be interesting as we know India very well and India has got a very good idea about us,” he added.
The Afghanistan side is formed out of players settled mostly in Europe. But what the team seems to be missing is proper communication in crucial situations, which the coach hoped will be getting better in the second match.
“The first match often is very hard. We have analysed our mistakes in the first match where we played really bad in the first 30 minutes. We killed ourselves there as Honk Kong scored both the goals within that time. We need to play more cohesively against India and ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes,” Dastgir said before signing off.
Cambodia will take on Hong Kong, which is the other team with a win in the first round, at 5 pm at the same venue before India meets Afghanistan at 8.30 pm.
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