FIFA World Cup Qualifier: After Qatar draw, onus on India to outclass Bangladesh

Igor Stimac has urged a more attacking approach where India could dominate possession, while Bangladesh will likely hold its shape and counter-attack.

On a day when the men in suits laid out the roadmap for the future of Indian football in Kuala Lumpur, over in Kolkata, the men in tracksuits are busy going through their paces to ensure the put forward plan is on the right track.

The Indian Super League (ISL) was conceived in 2014 as the forceful solution to take the nation to greater heights. Three years ago, India's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign ended with a second-round exit where it mustered a solitary win against a lowly Guam. On Tuesday, a 23-man squad boasting an all ISL group has been entrusted with providing a fillip to the 2022 qualifying campaign against Bangladesh in a Group E clash at the Salt Lake Stadium.

The spirited display in the goalless draw in Qatar on the back of the cruel defeat to Oman proved to be a watershed moment for this young group. Returning to the ‘Mecca of Indian football’ after a gap of nine years, Igor Stimac’s men have the chance to make another statement by registering the first win of the campaign.

“There will be a lot of passion. We know that we have somehow woken up everyone with our recent performances. We have shown that on our day we can play against anyone. In the first two games, we were not favourites. But now the whole pressure is on us. We have to win this game so that we have a chance to keep dreaming,” said Stimac on the pre-match eve.

Not taking Bangladesh lightly

Despite carrying the favourite billing, Stimac is in no mood to take the opposition lightly. Bangladesh is placed bottom on the points table behind India after coming off a 2-0 defeat to Qatar at home last week.

The Croatian said, “I wouldn't like any of you to underestimate Bangladesh. Whenever we underrate someone the result is not good. Bangladesh did a very good job against Qatar. They created more chances.”

Bangladesh coach Jamie Day wants his men to make the chances count on Tuesday and silence a sold-out crowd. “We have to catch on. Qatar had two shots on target and they scored both. We got five we but we couldn't score. If we take our chances we can win against India."

Ranked 83 rungs below India, Bangladesh has been a side on the rise under Englishman Day. Since his appointment as the senior team coach in May last year, the Red and Green have won seven of their 13 matches. Fourteen of its 23-man travelling party is aged 23 or below with the former Arsenal trainee building his team around the 2018 Asian Games youngsters.

Chhetri returns

In the lead up to the match, the Blue Tigers, however, has to fill a Sandesh Jhingan-sized hole after he suffered a long term injury last week when India played its first practice match in 28 days against NorthEast United FC.

They will receive a boost in the form of the returning striker Sunil Chhetri, who missed the match against Qatar due to illness. The skipper retained his goal-scoring touch with a strike in the 1-1 draw at the home of the Highlanders. His Bengaluru FC teammate and defender Rahul Bheke is available for selection after being by cleared by the medical staff from a groin strain.

With Rowllin Borges suspended, Stimac may look at Vinit Rai as an option for defensive cover in the center of the midfield to allow his midfielders to enjoy creative freedom in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Stimac has urged a more attacking approach and his side will likely dominate possession, whereas Bangladesh will be expected to hold its shape and pounce on the break. The pace of Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh will be key for India to set the proceedings in the first half.

Much like the opposition, India, too, has skilfull under-23 players at the core of its team. Failure to seize opportunities has hurt the side in the recent past. On Tuesday, it has another opportunity to set the ball rolling.

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