UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium , Al Ain, UAE
July 23, 2011
During late hours of last Sunday, when people were planning things for the upcoming week, getting into their beds, every Indian football fanatic had their heart skip a beat when the news of Indian National football team beating Qatar floated in via SMS’s and Facebook updates. It gave a sense of satisfaction, with a hint of revenge, for what happened a few weeks ago at the same ground, with a slightly younger team. India blanked Qatar’s full strength squad with a 2-1 clinical win in an international friendly at Al-Sadd Stadium in Doha. The triumph, which is being now cited as once-in-a-decade scalp by the Arabic print media, gave wings to the audacious hopes, hopes which never die out for a follower of this beautiful game.
India takes on the United Arab Emirates at Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. This match is a part of second round World Cup qualifier for the Asian group. The winners from this round will meet the heavyweights like Australia, current Asian champions Japan and South Korea in the next and the penultimate round. Four teams will make their way to Brazil for the most coveted trophy in world football. As the much awaited and talked about match knocks at our doors, let’s look at both the sides and analyze what could be a historic away match for the Bhangra boys. India will take inspiration from Sukhwinder Singh’s teams 1-0 win over UAE in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.
United Arab Emirates:
Al-Abyad, as they are prevalently called in the Emirates, is currently coached by Slovenian Srecko Katanec. Going by the stats recently, his team has been relentless and are in red hot form. The team from the gulf has scored 12 goals in their last 4 friendly matches, which includes humbling of listless Lebanon last Sunday, slotting half a dozen goals in response to two by the neighbors. Coach Katanec insists that the goal drought, for which the team was openly criticized in the media, after failing to score in any of the matches at the last edition of the Asia Cup in Qatar, is due to the fact mentioned above. In response to the accusations by the media, Katanec responded by saying
“You journalists are talking about this issue too much. Even Brazil and Argentina couldn’t score at Copa America. It just happens sometimes. If you keep talking and writing about this everyday we won’t score for this reason,”. It is obvious that the Slovenian is literally feeling the heat as the temperatures soar in the capital.
Khalil, a danger for Indian defence
The team has been training in Austria and they arrive fresh from their camp in Austria where they also beat second division Austrian side SV Grondig 3-2, Romanian league one CS Pandurii Targu Jiu 2-1 and drew with CS Dinamo Bucharest 1-1. Certainly, acclimatization to the conditions would be real factor when the two teams face off in Abu Dhabi and Delhi. Obviously the European countries cannot emulate those conditions, so the nine-day training camp in Austria, is certainly open to debate for the followers.
Expected Line Up: (4-2-3-1)
Ali Khaseef (GK), Yousuf Al Jaber, Waleed Abbass, Hamdan Al Kamali, Mohammad Ahmad, Amer Abdul Rahman, Amer Mubarak Ganim, Mohammad Al Shehhi, Ali Al Waheebi ,Esmail Al Hammadi, Ahmad Khalil.
Striker Ahmad Khalil could be tipped as the man to watch out for Indian defenders, as the centre forward is in crisp striking form. He scored a quick hat trick in the most recent game against Lebanon for the Al-Abyad.
Armando Colaco took over the mentorship of the lowly ranked  Indian team, after Bob Houghton was controversially terminated from his duties as the national head coach. Armando Colaco, the name needs no second introduction when blabbered in front of Indian football faithful. The federation has shown faith in him, and till now he hasn’t disappointed. In one of his initial press conferences, he proclaimed that he would one day like Indian team to emulate FC Barcelona. That statement did raise some eyebrows around the Indian football following community, but belief is something which has driven football fans all over the world.
So far, Armando Colaco has done surprisingly well in the two friendlies. With India doing substantially well in both the away games, Colaco’s style of ‘Possession football’ has certainly had an impact on the team, with the lads creating sleek moves in both the matches. India are certainly having a Plan B to fall back to, when the Plan A doesn’t work, a void which was openly criticized by the pundits under the Bob era. Indian team has shown more composure and maturity with the ball under Colaco and is expected to deploy the same strategy come Saturday in Al Ain.
India is expected to start with ever so reliable Subrata Pal under the crossbar. Gouramangi Singh will partner India U-23 captain Raju Gaekwad just in front of him. Samir Naik will tread the right flank from behind, overlapping with Steven Dias. Debabrata Roy is expected to do the same from the left flank, in sync with the veteran Syed Nabi. The engine of the team will be the meticulous Mehtab Hussain and Climax Lawrence. Both the players have had influential seasons with their clubs back home and will be looking to knit all the moves. Sunil Chettri, who has hit a purple patch at the right time, scoring in both the matches leading to this one, will partner Jeje Lalpekhlua upfront. Both the strikers would be looking to finish off moves with maximum effectiveness, especially in this away fixture. An away goal is nothing less than gold dust, and would certainly throw cat among the pigeons, when the Katanec brings his lads to the hallowed grounds of Ambedkar Stadium on Thursday.
Chhetri is in prime form
The form of Jeje is a bit of concern for the team management, but the former Indian Arrows hit man would love to silence his critics with boasting goal scoring boots on Saturday. India has Baljit Sahni in their ranks along with Sushil singh, who slotted the second goal at Al Sadd on Sunday. In defense, it is yet to be seen whether old horse Mahesh Gawli gets a nod in front of Gouramangi Singh, as Assamese poses threat during set plays.
The game would obviously be very different from what Indian team has experienced till now in both the preparatory matches, as UAE will come out all guns blazing in front of their home crowd, and will try to seal the result in Abu Dhabi itself. Colaco hopes that Indians residing in the gulf region would come out in numbers to support their team at Shaikh Khalifa International Stadium, which has a capacity of 16,000. Armando has come out and defended his team, after the Bhangra Boys’ performance in Doha was taken lightly by the Arabic Media. Colaco’s statement made it clear that Indians were not here to make numbers, but to make it difficult for the home side to go through, and very subtlety tagged them favorites.
Expected Line Up: (4-4-2)
Subrata Pal (GK), Debabrata Roy, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaekwad, Samir Naik, Steven Dias, Mehtab Hussain, Climax Lawrence, Syed Nabi ,Sunil Chettri ,Jeje Lalpekhlua.
It is yet to be seen, whether the Delhi crowd would have something substantial to cheer about when they line up for tickets on Thursday outside the intimidating Ambedkar Stadium, or would it be a dead rubber. With almost every sport fanatic, along with the print media, in the country curious about Sachin’s century of centuries, Colaco’s men have a real chance of adding a surprise dash of joy to the cocktail of sports and patriotism, taking it to another level and subsequently creating history.
UAE 2-1 India