Dubai: Sans national captain Bhaichung Bhutia and a doubtful Sunil Chettri, India are bracing for a tough challenge against Asian champions Iraq in their international football friendly in Sharjah, Thursday.
The friendly is a part of India`s preparations for January`s Asian Cup in Doha.
Bhaichung has not regained full fitness while Chettri, who struck a hat-trick against Vietnam, injured his ankle during a training session here.
Assistant coach Savio Medeira hoped that 144th-ranked Indian team will give 94th-ranked Iraq a tough fight.
"We have been playing against some tough teams like Yemen, and the boys are now better prepared to play Iraq. In fact, now the Indian team should play against teams like Iraq, Iran and Australia," Medeira said.
Medeira said the team management will take a final call on Sunil Thursday morning.
"We don`t want to risk Sunil. We still have two important matches coming up against Kuwait (Nov 14) and UAE (Nov 18) and will field Sunil only if he is 100 percent fit," he said.
In the absence of Chettri and Bhutia, chief coach Bob Houghton will start with Abhishek Yadav and Sushil Kumar upfront. Surkumar Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Anwar and Rahim Nabi will be manning the defence while Subrata Paul will be in the goal.
Rakesh Masih will replace injured N.P. Pradeep, while Steven Dias will be on the right, Climax Lawrence in the centre and Anthony Pereira on the left flank.
Iraq are having a good run and have won four of their last five games, the latest being 2-1 win over Qatar last month.