India look to make presence felt against Bahrain
Doha: After the spirited show against formidable Australia, India would hope to make an impact in the Asian Cup football tournament when they take on Bahrain in their second group match here on Friday.
Following a troubled build-up to the tournament which saw the team suffer heavy defeats in international friendlies, the 0-4 result against the world number 26 was comparatively better then what many had expected.
Bahrain are the least fancied among India`s opponents in Group C, though they are ranked seventh in Asia and 93rd in FIFA charts, and missed out on the 2010 World Cup in play-off.
The match against Bahrain at the Al Saad Stadium tomorrow would be a great opportunity for India to make their presence felt in the continental showpiece event despite talismanic skipper Bhaichung Bhutia`s absence, who is recovering from a calf muscle injury.
Bhutia, who consulted the Australian team doctor on his injury a few days back, is expected to play a part in India`s third group match against South Korea on January 18.
Coach Bob Houghton will make some changes from the team that played against Australia in their opening match, to provide them rest for the match against South Korea.
"We can`t play three matches with the same set of boys, they will get tired as you are running a lot. So there will be some changes. It will be a tough match. Bahrain are a strong team, having missed the World Cup in play-off, though they were dominated by South Korea in their opening match," Houghton said.
Head to head, Bahrain hold the edge winning three of the four encounters. While the first meeting between the two sides, in 1982, ended in a stalemate, the West Asian nation thrashed India 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in June, 1993, their last meeting.
In between, Bahrain registered two more wins -- 3-0 in 1986, and 2-1 in 1993. This will, however, be their first meeting in the Asian Cup.
Left-back Deepak Mondal, who struggled to stop the crosses from the right by Brett Emerton in the first match, is likely to be replaced by Syed Rahim Nabi who operated on the wings against Australia.
Senior player Renedy Singh, who came in the second half against Australia and who delivered a couple of good crosses, is expected to take Nabi`s left-wing position tomorrow.
Houghton is likely to continue with Sunil Chhetri and Mohammed Rafi as strikers in the starting line-up, with the lanky Abhishek Yadav coming in later.
Gouramangi Singh, Anwar and Surrkumar Singh are expected to start at the back, while Climax Lawrence and N P Pradeep will continue to man the midfield. Steven Dias, who did not have a very good game against Australia, is also expected to start at the right.
Bahrain, who left out five players who featured in the 2010 World Cup play-off, would look to score their first win having lost to South Korea in their opening match, and set up a crunch match against Australia for a quarter-final berth.
Bahrain had beaten strong teams like Saudi Arabia intheir 2010 World Cup qualification campaign, but had been struggling recently. They had a disappointing outing in the West Asian Championships in September last year which led to the resignation of their Austrian coach Josef
Under new coach Salman Sharida, Bahrain crashed out of the group stage of Gulf Cup in November last year.
Bahrain struggled against South Korea and they will have to play their best against an Indian side who were not overawed by the formidable Aussies.
They did well in defence not giving many clear scoring opportunities to the Koreans, but the performance of their forwards left a lot to be desired.
Naturalised Nigerian Jaycee John is one who can lift his side to greater deeds. India will have to keep him quiet if they want to snatch at least a point.