Pune: India once again take on their neighbours Nepal in an international friendly football match here on Monday ahead of their crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers match against continental heavyweights Iran early next month.
India had beaten Nepal on aggregates (a 2-0 win and a 0-0 draw) in the World Cup first round qualifying match and the two sides are once again crossing swords against each other at the Balewadi Stadium here.
Nepal, ranked 184th in the FIFA charts, are playing their first senior international match after the devastating earthquake that hit the Himalayan nation recently. On the other hand, 156th-ranked Indians are using tomorrow's match as a tune-up for the big home match on September 8 against Iran, currently Asia's highest ranked side.
India and Nepal have played against each other 19 times so far. Nepal have managed to win just four while India have recorded victory on 12 occasions.
India coach Stephen Constantine predicted a tough game for his wards against Nepal, a team he had coached earlier.
"I would like to welcome Nepal to India to play their first international friendly post the tragedy of earthquakes. I have fond memories of the lovely Himalayan Kingdom and I share the pain of the people. Nepal will always remain close to my heart," he said at the pre-match press conference.
"Nepal have always been a difficult team for India. They have shown in the last two games that they can fight. They will give us a difficult game and that's what we want. We want to be stretched to the wire. The general perception stays that they are not that strong as people sometimes love to go by the FIFA Rankings. But no one knows more about their spirit than me," he added.
Asked about the fitness of his players, Constantine said, "There were a few teams that have been training but the vast majority of the boys have done little since the completion of the Hero I-League. And now with the GPS systems in place, none can cheat.
"So there's a huge issue not only from fitness point of view of also lack of match fitness. We have already released Holicharan Narzary because of an appendix problem. The match against Nepal is an opportunity for us to play an international game in preparation for the Russia 2018 Qualifying match against Iran," he said.
Constantine said veteran goalkeeper Subrata Paul will captain the Indian side tomorrow.
"Subrata will be the captain for tomorrow's match against Nepal while Sunil (Chhetri) will be the vice-captain," he said flanked by the two senior at both the sides.
"In Europe, you get a lot of time with the players, down here you get around 10 days to test the team. Hence, this match will give us a platform to see how the Indian players perform under certain circumstances," he added.
Chhetri said, "You have to give your cent per cent when you are a part of the national team. There are no excuses to it. You have to perform and give it your best shot."