Huadu Stadium, Guangzhou
India take on Singapore in almost a do or die encounter in Asian Games. After losing the first two games, India are on the verge of elimination. With zero points so far, India is one of the two teams who have failed to gather any points in the tournament. However, hope is not lost yet. The format of the tournament is such that 4 of the best 3rd placed teams can also qualify for next round. The Bhangra Boys will be looking at that window of opportunity.
In the match against Qatar, India clearly lost due to inexperience. Despite leading till the 80th minute, Sukhwinder’s boys shipped in 2 goals in last 10 minutes. Ravanan was the pick of the players against the Doha Games gold winners. He scored India’s only goal of the game – turning in a free-kick from Abranches. He led the defence from the front with three goal-line clearances.
Indian strikers let down the team one more time, Jeje as well as Balwant fluffed chances despite being one on one with the keeper. Had they taken their opportunities, the result might have been different. India weren’t helped by the fact that first choice custodian Kattimani was injured in the match and had to be replaced by Gurpreet Sandhu. Sandhu was partially responsible for Qatar’s opening goal.
Singapore players huddle before the Qatar match
Singapore surprised the world when they held Qatar to a stalemate in the first match. They were undone in the 2nd game losing 2-0 to Kuwait. Singapore’s team is mainly made up of players from Young Lion’s FC. Young Lions is a football club which has been primarily set-up to encourage young and talented players. They take part in S-League and have finished 3rd in the league twice. They can be compared with the newly created AIFF XI in Indian football.
Since most of players have been playing together for quite some time, Singapore’s team chemistry is good. Captain Hariss Harun is a promising player, having played a handful of games for the senior team till date. Experienced midfielder Sahril Ishak is one of many over-aged players in the squad.
India has so far conceded 4 goals in 2 matches, curiously 3 of them in the last 10 minutes. This clearly shows a lack of concentration and experience towards the end. Coach Sukhwinder must act to root out this issue. Another criticism aimed at the U-23 team has been their over-defensive attitude. They rely too much on the long ball game instead of trying to control the pace of the match when leading.
In this crucial encounter none of the teams can afford to slip up.
Currently the 4 best 3rd placed teams are – Uzbekistan (3 pts), Vietnam (3 pts), China (3 pts), Singapore (1 pt). Maldives and Palestine are also ahead of India with 1 point each.
If India does manage to defeat Singapore, they will garner 3 points. Whether it will be good enough or not, will depend on other groups.
In Group A, China face Malaysia, since both teams have the same number of points currently (3), either team winning the tie wouldn’t hinder India’s chances. If they draw, then it will come down to goal-difference.
In Group B, Vietnam face an Iran side which has already qualified. If we assume that Turkmenistan is able to defeat Bahrain then they will have 6 points. If Iran rests some players only then will Vietnam be able to carve out a favourable result.
In Group C, both the Korean teams look too strong for Jordan and Palestine. After the world cup debacle, it’s not likely that the North Korean coach will take the 3rd match lightly despite qualifying. South Korea hasn’t qualified for sure yet and they will try to win against Palestine
Group E looks tight with all of the teams except Bangladesh playing good football. It is probable that one of the teams from this group will clinch a spot as 3rd placed team.
Group F also looks pretty straight forward. Neither Thailand nor Oman have booked their places in next round. It’s unlikely that they will take their matches against Maldives and Pakistan lightly.
So if India wins, there is a huge chance of the Bhangra Boys to progress to next round. The team has shown wonderful spirit so far despite all obstacles. India’s experiences of last day matches are not pleasant in recent times. In 2002 Games, India lodged an official complaint about the fixture list. The last matches were not on the same day. India had a chance to qualify as one of best runners up. Instead their place was taken by Bahrain who defeated Palestine 5-0 in a match that looked like good neighbours helping each other.
The fixture problem still hasn’t been rectified and India would be hoping the end result is different this time.