Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi,
International Football returns to Kochi for the first time since 2004 as 166th ranked India square off against the 152nd ranked Palestine on 6th February. This is the first time India are playing against the West-Asians in a FIFA friendly. It is team India’s first match in the new year and the only one before the AFC Challenge Cup. The same holds true for Palestine who will be participating in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers as well. India has not played any match after the match against Yemen was called off.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Having traveled the length and breadth of the nation to watch I-League matches, Wim Koevermans has struck a fine balance between awarding the top I-League performers and retaining the core set of players that played in the Nehru Cup. The problem for Koevermans however, is that a lot of his core set of players are passing through a lean patch and it does remain to be seen how the starting eleven would look like.
The dilemma begins right at the back where Kovermans’ favorite Subrata Paul has been warming the benches at Prayag United, getting opportunities to play only in the Calcutta League. Subasish Row Chowdhury of Dempo has also retained his place Sandip Nandy who has been the best keeper in the League so far has earned a call-up to the team at the age of 38 but despite this it does seem that the Spider-man will start in the match. The defense continues to be a headache as two of the likely starters in central defence – Raju Gaikwad and Gourmangi Singh have been inconsistent in I-Leahue. Raju has failed to make the first eleven in East-Bengal while Gourmangi has been below-par for Prayag. The fullbacks however seem settled with Denzil Franco and Mr. Verstile Rahim Nabi expected to start at the right and left. Nirmal Chettri and Gurjinder Kumar provide solid bench strength.
Indian midfield which has often come under the scanner for its non-existence, bears a new and refreshing look with the likes of Lalkamal Bhowmick, CK Vineeth and Arata Izumi rightly getting rewarded for their performances in the I-League. Mehtab Hossain and Lalkamal Bhormick are likely to start in the heart of Indian midfield and will be entrusted with the job of spreading the play to the wings and the strikers. Lenny Rodrigues who started in the Nehru Cup final might be called in later in the game.
Clifford Miranda and Francis Fernandes are likely to tread the left and right wings respectively. Francis comes into the match after scoring a brace against Pune. Young Indian midfielder CK Vineeth is another player who looks certain to make his debut though as a substitute. The Keralite who is known for his pace, comes into the match after scoring a hat-trick against Air-India in his last match and can also play as a striker if wanted. Joaquim Abracnhes is another option Koevarmans would be looking at as the Dempo player has impressed in I-League despite having been asked to play at different positions – striker, support-striker, midfielder.
Koevermans is expected to stick to his preferred 4-4-1-1 formation and it looks likely that Arata Izumi, who became the first naturalized citizen to earn a call-up to the national team, will start ahead of the much talked about Alwyn George. Izumi has great control and is well known for his pace and skills, which makes him the ideal person to play behind the lone striker which in all probabilities is going to be captain Sunil Chhetri. The Sporting Lisbon player is no doubt the most decorated player in the team at the moment and the fans across the nation would hope that he can score yet again. Manandeep Singh and Sushil Kumar will look to make it count if they are given opportunities
Possible Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Subrata Pal; Rahim Nabi, Gourmangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Denzil Franco; Clifford Miranda, Mehtab Hussain, Lalkamal Bhowmick, Francis Fernandes; Arata Izumi; Sunil Chhetri
Coached by Jamal Mahmoud, Palestine come into the match with an eye on AFC Challenge Cup. Jamal Mahmoud is known to deploy a 4-2-3-1 strategy and it has worked well with the team finished 4th in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers and securing a win over Lebanon in the recently concluded WAFF Championship
In absence of first choice goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh, Mohammed Shbair looks likely to start the game with Tawfiq Ali on the bench. Abdel-Latif Bahdari who plies his trade in Saudi-Arabia, will start in the center of defense accompanied by Khaled Mahdi. Both Bahdari and Mahdi are over 6 feet tall and will look to keep Chhetri under check. Raed Fares, after a solid showing in the WAFF Championship is likely to start as the right-fullback and either of Ahmad Salama or Nadim Barghouti will start on the left flank.
Khader Yousef and Mousa Abu Jazar are the double pivots in the Palestine 4-2-3-1 formation and the duo would be entrusted to break up India’s play and make passes for the forward line. While Yousef is a vetran of 40 caps and is a key player in the Palestine line-up, Jazar posses a mean free kick. Imad Zatara who plies his trade in Sweden will start on the left flank and will look to carry his good run of form from the WAFF Championship into this friendly. Abu Saleh is expected to start in the right flank. Ashraf Nu’man was arguably Palestine’ s best player in the WAFF Championship and will play as a supporting striker. Starting upfront would be Eyad Abugharqoud, the striker who scored in Palestine’s historic 1-0 win over Lebanon in the WAFF Championship.
The 18 member Palestine Squad stays as follows
Goalkeepers: Tawfiq Ali, Mohammed Shbair
Defenders: Abdel-Latif Bahdari (Hajer, KSA), Hussam Abu Saleh, Khaled Mahdi, Ahmad Salama, Nadim Barghouti, Raed Fares
Midfielders: Abdelrahim Ka’beia , Khader Yousef (Al-Faisaly, JOR), Mousa Abu Jazar, Mahmoud Salah, Ma’aly Kaware, Imad Zatara (Åtvidabergs FF, SWE)
Forwards: Eyad Abugharqoud, Ashraf Nu’man (Al-Faisaly, JOR), Khaled Salem
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Mohammed Shbair; Ahmad Salama, Abdel-Latif Bahdari, Khaled Mahdi, Raed Fares; Khader Yousef, Mousa Abu Jazar; Imad Zatara, Ashraf Nu’man, Abu Saleh; Eyad Abugharqoud
- This is the first FIFA recognized international match between India and Palestine
- Both teams have one player each playing in Europe - Sunil Chhetri who plays for Sporting Lisbon B in Portugal and Imad Zatara who plays for Åtvidabergs in Sweden
- Prayag United have the maximum representation in the Indian national team with 4 players in the 23 member squad
- Palestine are missing some key players like Belgium-based defender Omar Jarun, Poland-based left back Alexis Norambuena and Boca Juniors defender Daniel Mustafa
Players To Watch Out For
Sunil Chhetri (India)
The national team skipper is always the player to watch out for whenever team India plays. He has hardly played in his stint with Sporting Lisbon B but as coach Koevermans admitted he is training at the highest levels. The prolific scorer will look to add to his tally against a weakened Palestine defense and prove a point to his detractors.
Ashraf Nu’man (Palestine)
The Palestine #7 is the heart of the Palestine attack and is a key player in the lineup. Playing as a supporting striker, Nu’man is technically gifted and quick with the ball. Having played a integral role in Palestine’s impressive performance in the WAFF Championship, Nu’man will look to trouble the shaky Indian defense.
India 2-1 Palestine
A full house is expected at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi as football returns to the state after a gap of 9 years and the crowd is likely to act as the 12th man for team India. The hosts have always punched above their weight in domestic ties and are likely to edge out Palestine.