India start favourites against Pakistan in football friendly

Bangalore: The local football fans will get a preview of sorts of the Asian Games-bound Indian team which will take on Pakistan in the first of the two friendly matches here Sunday amidst the usual buzz that is normally associated with any sporting encounter between the two neighbours.

It will be the first such series between the two countries since 2005 when India visited Pakistan for a three-match competition.

While the two under-23 teams face each other for the first game Sunday, the second meeting is scheduled for Wednesday and the two outings will further help both sides in their preparations for next month’s Asian Games competition in Incheon, South Korea.

The Indian squad visited the Czech Republic on an exposure trip last month, accompanied by three senior players, including national team captain Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh and Francis Fernandes, and by all accounts put in an impressive performance in the three matches against local club teams by drawing two and losing the other game.

As such, the hosts will start as firm favourites to win both the matches which also present national coach Wim Kovermans with more opportunities to try out various combinations.

Much of the focus, from the Indian perspective, would be on the defence that was cruelly exposed during the Czech tour as the visitors conceded seven goals in three matches.

However, up front, Kovermans tried out some new pairings, but eventually, it was Chhetri who ended up scoring all the five goals for the Indian outfit with two double strikes to help secure the draws and another in the 1-3 defeat to Czech third division side TJ Domazlice.

The Pakistan team, headed by 22-year-old forward Kaleemullah who has come up through the ranks since first playing in the AFC under-19 qualifying tournament in 2007, will be under pressure, having to play in front of a partisan crowd backing the home team.

The two friendly ties will also help Pakistan’s preparations for the Asian Games where both teams will be facing far tougher competition.

Doordarshan will telecast both matches live, according to the organisers. The two friendly games are being hosted by the JSW Group, owners of I-league champions Bengaluru FC, along with the All-India Football Federation (AIFF).

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