AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers: India vs Chinese Taipei- Preview
Yangon: India go into the tournament after suffering a 2-4 defeat to Palestine in an international friendly match that was played on home soil, before which the Men and Blue had succummed to a 2-0 defeat in another friendly match away to Singapore. Hence the preparations have been far from ideal, though the two week training camp in Pune should mean that the fitness levels are at an optimum level.
However Chinese Taipei, the team which is ranked 171 in the FIFA World Rankings, should on paper, not trouble the Blue Tigers (167) a lot, but India cannot afford to take any opponent lightly. The Chinese team have achieved their highest ranking of 144 way back in 2006. They were ranked as low as 180 in the early part of 2009, but have managed to pull themselves up by nine places since then.
As a consequence of their elimination in the group stages in 2010, India were forced to qualify for the 2012 event, in which Jeje Lalpekhlua was the star man with four goals. Unfortunately, in the main edition, the Indians disappointed again, replicating their performance from the previous tournament, by finishing rock bottom of their group with no points from three games.
Besides Jeje, the other options in the attack for Koevermans will be that of Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh, who are both returning from their respective club`s AFC Cup games from earlier this week, while injury blows to defenders Arnab Mondal and Sandesh Jhingan might hurt the Indian contingent.
Chiang Mu-Tsai`s side, on the other hand, made it to the quarter-finals of the AFC Challenge Cup in 2006, where they lost 3-0 to eventual runners-up Sri Lanka. They will be hoping to put in a better performance in the qualifiers, and ensure that they will be making the flight to the Maldives in 2014.
Chinese Taipei`s Chen Po-Liang will remain their man to watch. The striker rose to the fore with two goals against Guam in a East Asian Football Championship 2010 semi final game in 2009, while scoring 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 Chinese Taipei ended the year 2012 on a forgettable note, with an 8-0 loss to Australia in Hong Kong in the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup Prelimnary Competition. This was after they had lost 2-0 to Hong Kong, drew 1-1 with Guam and were mauled 1-6 by North Korea.
Hence they go into the competition with their confidence on a low, but a tournament of such stature can be the ideal platform for them to revive their fortunes.