September 27th, 2012; Kick-Off- 5PM IST
Rah Ahan Stadium, Tehran
The Indian under-16 side’s quest to reach the knock-out stages of the ongoing AFC under-16 Championship will receive an acid test when the boys take on their Chinese counterparts at the Rah Ayan Stadium in Tehran today. In their first two group games, the Indian side has colleceted only a single point, after losing 2-3 to a strong Uzbek side and playing out a goalless draw against Syria.
India’s stand-out player during the first two games has been the prolific Uttam Rai. Playing against Uzbekistan in his side’s opening game, the Sikkimese lad twice rescued India after being pegged back by goals from Odilov Mukhiddin and Abdullaev Ibrokhim. However, the Indian colts were unlucky not to come out of the game with a draw after Abdiganiyev Ilhomjon scored the winner with ten minutes left in the clock. It was a strong goalkeeping display from custodian Supratim Bhattacharjee that helped India hold Syria to a goalless draw in their second game of the tournament. Coach Colm Toal would be hoping for a similar performance from his goalkeeper when the boys lock horns with China. While anything less than a win will mean a group stage exit for India, even a victory over China may not be enough to take Toal’s boys to the next round if Syria go on to beat Uzbekistan in the group’s other game.
China go into today’s game on the back of a couple of creditable draws against Syria and Uzbekistan. Coach Su Mozahen has already stressed on the importance of winning the game in order to reach a step closer to U-17 World Cup qualification. Taking India’s first two games into account, Mozahen expects a tough game against a talented Indian side. Meanwhile, his counterpart Colm Toal, who has followed the first two group stage games of the Chinese side, will be wary of some very talented individuals in their team.
Toal is expected to field Sajid Dhot and Sarthak Golui at the heart of defence, with goalkeeper Supratim Bhattacharjee keeping his place under the bar, and Myron Mendes and Gurba Gagrai starting as sidebacks. Issac Vanmalswama, skipper Khiangte Lalramzuava, Alen Deory and Germanpreet Singh should be starting in Toal’s midfield, behind the forward duo of Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Uttam Rai in a 4-4-2 formation. The Indian coach also has other options at hand, as he can call on the likes of Vanlalduatsanga, Geremsha Basumatary, etc. if needed.
Probable starting XI: Supratim, Dhot, Golui, Mendes, Gagrai, Vanmalswama, Lalramzuava, Deory, Germanpreet, Lalhlimpuia, Rai.
Su Mozahen (China U-16 coach): “Our goal is to qualify for the U-17 World Cup and play good football in the process. It will be a big test for us as it would be for any Indian team against any Chinese team.”
Colm Toal (India U-16 coach) “China come into the match against us with two very good performances. I have watched them play and they are a good team who have some very good individual players.”
THT Prediction: India 1-2 China
Despite the Indian team doing well in its first two group stage games, the Chinese colts are more experienced at this level. Mozahen’s boys should be strong enough to ward off the Indian threat and book its place in the quarterfinals. The Indian side, who have done really well so far considering the stature of the tournament and their experience at the international level, is expected to give its rivals a run for their money. However, if Uttam Rai and co. can produce their magic today, a win over China may be on the cards. The fans following the tournament back home would be keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the latter.
• A win for India, and any result other than a Syria victory in the other group game would ensure India’s qualification into the quarterfinals.
• A Syrian victory over Uzbekistan would all but end hopes of India moving into the knockout stages, even if the latter go on to beat China.
• Any result other than a win for India, would knock Colm Toal’s boys out of the tournament.