Kochi: India takes on Palestine in an International friendly on Wednesday, 6th February at the Jawaharlal Nehru International stadium in Kochi, where the national team shall play for the first time in 9 years.
The Blue Tigers go into the clash as slight favourites, owing to their status as the hosts, along with the Al-Fursan naming just nine of those players in their squad that took part in the West Asia Cup in December 2012.
Focusing on Wim Koevermans side, the Dutchman has called-up six new players, who did not play a part in the Nehru Cup triumph. Of them, Arata Izumi has garnered the most attention, owing largely to his Japanese heritage.
The midfielder, who has an Indian father, was only awarded an Indian passport at the start of this season, and became the first player of Indian origin to get a national call-up.
It remains to be seen where Koevermans uses him, if at all he plays, as his versatility offers several options to the national team.
The Prayag United duo of Lalkamal Bhowmick and C.K Vineeth are also interesting prospects, with the former having had a stellar campaign in central midfield, flourishing in a play-maker’s role. While Lenny Rodrigues and Mehtab Hussain themselves have had a good season, with just this one friendly before the AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifier, Koevermans might be tempted to try out Bhowmick, who offers more quality in possession.
C.K Vineeth meanwhile could prove to be the answer on the wing for India, as he has shown an eye for goal and trickery down the wing, having finally grabbed the limelight, after having had a good season for the relegated Chirag United Kerala last campaign.
While midfield has several options available, in defense and attack, the picture is not so rosy. Sunil Chhetri remains a default starter upfront, with little competition. Joaquim Abranches though, a late call-up to the squad, does offer a plan B.
In defense too, Gouramangi Moirangthem and Raju Gaikwad go into the clash completely off-form, but with Shouvik Ghosh the other centre-back in the team, the duo are still likely starters.
With Karanjit Singh’s withdrawal, Prayag’s second choice custodian, Subrata Paul, is now even more likely to get the nod in goal.
For Al Fursan, the game is a good build-up to the AFC Challenge Cup. While they are missing some of their foreign based stars, players like Khaled Salem, who has now been drafted into the senior team, alongwith Eyad Abugharqud, provide them with good options upfront.
The duo of Ashraf Nu’man and Imad Zatara will look to provide the crosses down the wings, and both the players are full of trickery and dribbling abilities.
At the back, Abdallatif Albahdari has earned a re-call after almost 2 years out and will be tasked with the job of marking Sunil Chhetri.
They had a good year in 2012, where apart from reaching the AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals for the first time, they held nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia to a draw, while getting the better of Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. Narrow 2-1 losses to Kuwait and Oman showed the progress Al-Fursan are making.
It will be interesting to see how India deal against their threat in Kochi, in what shall be the first time ever the two nations shall meet in an International friendly.
India: Subrata Denzil, Raju, Gouramangi, Nabi Mehtab, Lenny Vineeth, Arata, Miranda, Chhetri
Palestine: Shbair Fares, Bahdari, Mahdi, Saleh Kaware, Yousef Zatara, Abuhabib, Nu`man Abugharqud