India will look to continue its winning run in the Intercontinental Cup when it takes on New Zealand in its last group match, at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday.
India has comfortably sealed its berth in the title clash, while the Kiwis will have to register a huge win and hope that Chinese Taipei defeats Kenya in the other match if they are to go through to the final.
Stephen Constantine's men go into the tie as prime favourites, having been in striking form so far. The Blue Tigers have played two flawless games, with the defence and attack coming good to produce winning displays. Gurpreet Singh is yet to concede a goal and has been shielded well by the watertight defence anchored by Sandesh Jhingan.
The attack, spearheaded by skipper Sunil Chhetri, has been phenomenal, pummelling an impressive eight goals. Chhetri himself bagged five of those, while Jeje Lalpekhlua, Pronay Halder, and Udanta Singh have scored one each. Jeje will particularly be eager to get on the scoresheet, in what will be his 50th appearance for the national side.
Given that India has virtually made it to the final, Constantine will be expected to make a few changes in the starting line up.
New Zealand comes into the match on the back of a 1-0 victory over Chinese Taipei, which marked its first win of the tournament. The young attacking trio of Sarpreet Singh, Myer Stefan Bevan, and Henry Anthony Cameron, who were a constant threat against Taipei the other night, will have to step up their game if they are to penetrate the resilient Indian defence.
New Zealand coach Fritz Schmid said on Tuesday that the match will be a big challenge for his boys. “We have seen India in the first two games and it will be a very big challenge for us. We have to do everything we can to recover as quick as possible. Unfortunately, the calendar has given us just one day to face the home team in the last game, which makes it even more difficult,” he said.
Thursday's encounter is a do-or-die game for the All Whites, while it will remain a routine outing for the in-form Indians.
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