India face Chinese Taipei in AFC Challenge Qualifiers
Yangon: High on confidence but low on performance, India will look to put behind the recent reverses when they take on Chinese Taipei in their opening match of the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying tournament here tomorrow.
India lost to Palestine 2-4 in an international friendly at home on February 6, barely four months after their 0-2 away verdict against Singapore.
The scorers against Palestine, Syed Rahim Nabi and Clifford Miranda, will be turning out tomorrow as well, but it is again going to be skipper Sunil Chhetri who will have to shoulder the bulk of responsibility.
AFC Challenge has always been a good outing for Chhetri and despite the lack of playing time at Sporting Lisbon, the pint-sized striker will be expected to deliver the goods for Wim Koevermans` side.
Rankings don`t separate the two teams by much but India can take heart from the fact that they had thrashed their opponents 3-0 the last time they met, in the qualifiers of the same tournament last year.
India are ranked 167th in the world, with their opponents placed four places behind at 171.
The five group toppers along with two best second-placed teams from 20 nations will make it to the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives.
The winner of the tournament in Maldives will confirm its berth in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, for which DPR Korea has already qualified.
Besides Chhetri, Koevermans will have Alwyn George, Jeje Lalpekhlua -- the star of the 2010 edition -- and Robin Singh as striking options.
The defence is likely to be manned by Denzil Franco, Gouramangi Singh, Shouvik Ghosh and Gurjinder Singh.
The midfield will comprise Nabi, Mehtab Hussain, Miranda with Lenny Rodrigues, in all likelihood, completing the set-up.
Dutchman Koevermans seemed happy with the intensity of the boys.
"I`m happy with the intensity. Only be careful, don`t ever switch-off, even in practice. Even if you switch-off for three seconds, you`re gone," he said.
Chhetri said despite the reverses, the quality of the team stays.
"A team will always have mixed luck. We won the Nehru Cup as we played to our potential. Then, we were a bit rusty in the international friendlies. But our quality stays. Had we not had them, we wouldn`t have won the Nehru Cup, that too beating Cameroon in the final," Chhetri pointed out.
Chinese Taipei, on the other hand, made it to the quarter-finals of the AFC Challenge Cup in 2006, when they lost 3-0 to eventual runners-up Sri Lanka.
Chen Po-Liang will remain their man to watch. The striker rose to prominence with two goals against Guam in a East Asian Football Championship game in 2009. He scored a goal each in his side`s away and home encounters against Malaysia in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Asian qualification first round matches.
The team ended 2012 on a forgettable note, with a 0-8 drubbing to Australia in the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup prelimnary competition. This was after their 1-6 mauling by North Korea and the 0-2 lose to Hong Kong.
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