MBPJ Stadium, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
23 March, 2011; 1:30 pm IST
India and Pakistan have enjoyed a huge rivalry post-independence in every sport, both the nations have participated in since, be it Hockey, Cricket, Kabaddi or Football. The rivalry in the latter has not been in the limelight, as other sports have enjoyed; but things are surely changing in the sub-continent, as tomorrow’s match has already seen much of a surprising media attention, as the two nations go head to head in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifying Round. One thing is for sure, no matter which sport the two nations participate in, no matter which country the match takes place, any match between the arch rivals has attracted huge crowds from both the countries and the MBPJ Stadium, Petaling Jaya, in the Malaysian Capital, is expected to be packed more than usual, as fans are expected to show up and cheer their national football heroes.
The Bhangra Boys are upbeat after the Bob Houghton-mentored side registered a comfortable opening match victory against the Chinese Taipei, hitting the back of the net thrice on their way. Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the opening goal, on his debut for the senior team, before the first half. The Indian Arrows’ star, who has already notched up seven goals in the I-league this season, was in red hot form and hit the target once again. He started alongside the new Indian captain Sunil Chettri, who himself got on the score sheet after a long time, when he netted India’s second goal on Monday. Another Indian Arrows’ star, Jewel Raja, too donned the scorers boot, as he claimed a goal in the injury time. India deployed a 4-4-2 formation, which kind of suited the way they had planned their attacking moves. The midfield of Jagpreet Singh and Rakesh Masih was not able to orchestrate many attacks from the central positions, and were playing more of a defensive role, cancelling out opponents moves. As usual, the Indian flanks were once again very active, as they were against the Chinese Taipei. Both Steven Dias and Nabi had a good game, where they both often occupied the holes in the opponent’s 12 yard box, making themselves available for loping crosses. Indian defense was on the top of its game in the first match, as another Indian Arrows’ youngster and former Tata Football Academy product, Raju Gaekwad was slotted beside the experienced Gourmangi Singh in the center of defense. They complemented each other throughout the game and will be expected to do the same tomorrow. As Salgaocar right back Govin Singh and Manju fill the right back and left back slots respectively, India are expected to keep another clean sheet. Bob could slot other experienced defenders like Anwar Ali, Denzil Franco and Nirmal Chettri if he requires some tweaking in the defense.
Pakistan was ousted by Turkmenistan on Monday at MBPJ Stadium. Both the keepers Amir Gul and Muhammad Omar picked the ball out of their own net thrice in the match, giving the Turkmenistan a victory on the opening day, in the opening Group B match. The 173rd-ranked Pakistan lost to the 133rd-ranked Turkmenistan for the second time in their history. The Green Jerseys have to win both of their matches to have a shout for a top place and qualify, as the Samar Ishaq led side locks horn against Sunil Chettri’ s lads. Coach Tariq Lutfi was left lamenting missed chances in front of the goal, as his front men floored many chances in their opening match. Pakistan team missed their influential center back Manzoor Ahmed for the opening match, as he was suspended by the Match Commissioner and the Referee Inspector. He is expected to make a return against India tomorrow, thus bolstering the defense. Samar Ishaq led defense needs to pull up its socks against start studded Indian frontline and the flanks, as they gear up for a virtual do-or-die match. Chettri looked good in the first match and his speed could draw the curtains on their AFC challenge cup ambitions. Kashiv Mumtaz Siddiqui could get a start in this match after the MLS player was benched in the first game against the Central Asians. Strikers need to sync-up well and try to convert their chances, against a rigid Indian Defense, if they are hoping to grab any points from this fixture. A country which recently faced the wrath of floods, impacting a lot of innocent lives, the football players can provide the football fanatics and the local junta a reason to smile, if they spring a surprise tomorrow, just like the Iraq National Football team did when they won the AFC Asian Cup in 2007.
This would be the 23rd meeting between the arch rivals. India flaunts an impressive record against their neighbors, winning twelve, while Pakistan has tasted victory only thrice. Seven games ended in draws. Last time these two teams met, was at the Rasmee Dhandu Stadium, Malé for a SAFF Championship group match in 2008. Steven Dias and NP Pradeep hit the back of the Pakistani net before the lemon break. India has got the better of the Green Jerseys three times in their last five meetings, and is expected to make it four tomorrow, as both the teams are expected to put in a little extra effort, which is obvious keeping in mind the huge rivalry.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Sunil Chettri (India), Samar Ishaq (Pakistan)
India 2 – 0 Pakistan