Vientanne, Laos: Their preliminary round campaign ending in disappointment, India will need to get their act together and salvage some pride when they take on Laos in a play-off match of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Football Qualifiers here Thursday.
India were left to feature in this play-off match after they finished at the bottom of their group during the preliminary round of the joint qualification campaign of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The bottom-placed teams of each group of the preliminary round and a few other lowest-ranked countries of the continent have been required to feature in these play-off matches to give them a chance to make it to the qualifying tournament of the 2019 Asian Cup.
India could only collect three points from a win from eight matches in the preliminary round and they need to begin the home and away play-off tie well tomorrow if they want to avoid the ignominy of not being able to even qualify to play in the qualifiers of the Asian Cup.
The return leg is scheduled for June 7 in Guwahati.
Head coach Stephen Constantine have come here with 21 players as several have been left out due to injury. Out of those injured, six could have "started against Laos", according to Constantine.
"A number of our key players are unfortunately injured. In fact, in our last practice session, we lost another promising youngster who might have started tomorrow," Constantine said at the pre-match press conference here today.
"But there's no point looking back and crying. We are ready with what we have. Every team plays to win. We will play hard. I believe in the ability of my players," said the English coach who took over the reigns last year and whose future has been put under the scanner after a string of poor shows by the national side under his charge.
Constantine talked about the misleading notion of "judging teams by their FIFA rankings".
"There's a tendency to judge teams by FIFA rankings. But we know Laos have some good players whom we watched in AFC Cup against Bengaluru FC. On top of that, they would be playing at home. So we expect it to be difficult," he said.
Captain Sunil Chhetri, who has had some idea of Laos football while playing for Bengaluru FC against Laos Toyota FC in the AFC Cup said "they are a good side".
"Some of my team-mates have been in Laos before but for me this is the first time. 7-8 Players of Laos Toyota FC played against Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup. The first time, they won 2-1; the second time we won 2-1. It will not be an easy game," he said.
Laos head coach Valakone Phomphukdy said playing at home "serves as an advantage".
"Our Friendly against Nepal was good. It helped us to test our strategy as to what we need to do against India. We have had some two weeks' preparation for this match. Playing at home serves as an advantage. Some of our Players have had the experience of playing against Bengaluru FC," he stated.
"We have been mentally preparing ourselves as to what it means to win," he said.
Match Starts at 5pm IST.