The Indian U-23 football contingent resumes their battle to get into the group stage of the London 2012 Olympics as they challenge the might of Qatar u-23s in the first round. India easily got past the Myanmar side in the preliminary round earlier in February this year, comfortably beating the South-east Asians 3-2 on aggregate. The first leg of the first round home-and-away fixture will be played out at Al Sadd Stadium in Doha this Sunday, as the Bhangra Boys continue to chase their Olympic dream.
Team News (India):
Coach Desmond Buplin cut down his initial 25-man squad to 18-member squad, which fled to Doha yesterday. The squad trained for six days at Balewadi sports complex in Pune, the venue where second and the home leg for the Indians is scheduled. Currently, the squad has as many as ten members from the Indian Arrows, a football club, sponsored by AIFF, mentored by Desmond Buplin. Indian Arrows finished ninth in the recently concluded I-league, showcasing good and attack oriented football. Buplin has had a close eye on these set of players from past one year and has now handpicked these players to take Indian football in the right direction. The players who made the cut are:
Laxmikant Kattimani (Dempo SC), Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Indian Arrows).
Arnab Mondal (Chirag United), Abhishek Das, Raju Eknath Gaikwad, Deepak Devrani (all IndianArrows), Saba Saleel (ONGC)
Lalrindika Ralte, Jewel Raja Sheikh, Shilton Sydney D’Silva, Jibon Singh (all Indian Arrows); Gurjinder Kumar (Pune FC); Snehasish Chakraborty (McDowell Mohun Bagan) ; Anthony Barbosa (Salgaocar SC); Zakir Mundampara (Churchill Brothers).
Jeje Lalpekhlua, Manandeep Singh (both Indian Arrows); CS Sabeeth (Viva Kerala)
The last time these two teams locked horns was last year in November, during the Asian Games in Guangzhou. The Indian U-23 colts were surprisingly leading that match till the 80th minute, only to see late defensive lapses cost them the match. D. Ravanan gave the Indian boys the lead in that match, only to see Ali Jaralla score a late brace to dash Indian hopes. The Viva Kerala Striker CS Sabeeth was the hero for the team in the preliminary round, as his injury time equalizer saw the Indians qualify for the first round. Indian team showed resilience on that occasion, something Indian football pundits couldn’t turn a blind eye to, while analyzing the Indian Arrows performance in the 10/11 I- league season.
Buplin is once again expected to go in with a rigid 4-4-2 strategy, deploying Jeje and Sabeeth upfront. Midfield bandwagon is expected to consist of Lalrindika Ralte, Jewel Raja and Shilton D’silva. Who does Buplin prefer for the fourth spot is yet to be seen, as his team selections have been questionable in the past too. Churchill Brothers youngster, MP Zakeer, who has had a decent season with the Goan club this year, could get a green flag for a starting place.
Tall and lanky Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is expected to start under the crossbar with captain Raju Gaekwad leading the last line of defense for the Indians. He is expected to be partnered by his Indian Arrows peer Deepak Devrani in the center. Jeje Lalpekhlua, who would have easily clinched every ‘best young player’ award in the recently concluded I-league season, would be our man to watch out for. The Mizo striker netted in the preliminary round too, and he would be once again looking to link up with Viva Kerala’s talented young striker CS Sabeeth, who had netted the decisive goal against Myanmar in last round encounter.
Coach Desmond Buplin needs to work upon a Plan-B, if the usual Plan-A of floating long balls fails to make an impact. Considering both, the style of play and the stature of Indian strikers, this plan has to be implemented with sheer accuracy to garner any result, especially on an alien ground. Indian Football faithful would be hoping that Team India at least come back home with a result to capitalize on, when they welcome their hosts in Pune on the 23rd.
Team News (Qatar):
Qatar U-23 team would be high on confidence, as they completed a 4-0 rout of Malaysia in a friendly match at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium. Two goals by Hassan Al Haidous and one apiece from Murad Naji and Abdulaziz Al Ansari helped the Olympic national team to a comfortable victory. French head coach, Simondi Bernard, has recently taken charge of the young lads. After the initial loss to Switzerland, the team has blossomed well at the 16-day national camp in Madrid, post which they have strung quality results. The team from the Middle-east has no shortage of skilful and talented players, but the coach believes the team should not take the Indians lightly and should combine quickly as a team. Hassan Khalid Al-Haidous would be our man to mark for the Indian defense as he has been in top goal scoring form recently.
Buplin’s Boys have a perfect opportunity to make a statement by showcasing a robust performance and prove that AIFF made a good decision to bunch together the Indian Arrows. As the Indian football followers have their eyes glued to this match, Indian team would look to avenge the defeat in China last year, and hope to come home with a victory.
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:
Hassan Khalid Al-Haidous(Qatar), Jeje Lalpekhlua(India)
Qatar 1-1 India