The Indian national football team will play its first game of the calendar year when it hosts neighbours Bangladesh at the Nehru Stadium in Margao, Goa, this Wednesday evening. Having played out a drab 1-1 draw in September with the same opponents during SAFF Cup, the Blue Tigers will hope for a better result against the Bengal Tigers this time around. TheHardTackle takes a look at a few battles within the game to look forward to –

Sunil Chhetri vs Atiqur Rahman Meshu

Sunil Chhetri has been in fine form recently.

Sunil Chhetri has been in fine form recently.

After a difficult time at Sporting Lisbon B which resulted in a worrying loss of form for Indian national skipper Sunil Chhetri, the forward’s return to I-League has witnessed a huge turnaround in his fortunes in the last 12 months. During this period, Chhetri has not only led his club Bengaluru FC to the top of the table, but has also broken Baichung Bhutia’s record of the highest international goals for the country. The diminutive striker will once again lead the country out against Bangladesh, and will hope to extend his goal tally. The skipper will, however, come up against an experienced centre-back in Atiqur Rahman Meshu. Meshu, who scored in the 1-1 draw against India at the SAFF Cup, has been an integral part of the Bangladeshi side in recent years. He played an important role in thwarting the Indian attack during the 1-1 draw back in September, and will be crucial to his team’s chances on Wednesday once again.

Lenny Rodrigues vs Mamunul Islam

The battle at the centre of the park looks set to be an intriguing one, with in form Bangladeshi skipper Mamunul Islam set to pull the strings for the Bengal Tigers. While Mehtab Hossain will have the task of dictating play from the middle for the Blue Tigers, the onus will be on Mehtab’s midfield partner Lenny Rodrigues to try and keep Mamunul quiet. The Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi skipper has been in very good vein recently, with his performances in IFA Shield garnering a lot of praise from various quarters. He could well be the focal point of Bangladesh’s attacks, and Koevermans could throw Rodrigues as a shield for the Indian defence, and prevent Mamunul from getting a free run in the middle of the park. Rodrigues, after a slow start to the season, has managed to find his feet in the last few months, and could have a crucial say in the game tomorrow.

Francis Fernandes vs Mohammed Waly Faisal

Francis Fernandes has been one of the regular starters for the Indian national team in recent times. Under Wim Koevermans, the Salgaocar winger seems to have cemented his position on the right flank. He looks set to start once again for the Blue Tigers this Wednesday. Abahani Limited full-back Mohammed Waly Faisal is likely to be given the job to try and stop Francis from getting the crosses into the box, with both the flankers having faced each other during the game back in September. Francis was one of the better players for India during that day, although Faisal too did a fairly good job for his side. The Bangladeshi left-back, fairly experienced in the international arena, will also try and go into a few overlapping runs down the flank, and Francis will have to make sure that he provides ample cover to right-back Denzil Franco.

Lalrindika Ralte vs Ashraf Mahmud Linkon

Lalrindika Ralte hasn’t been in his best form recently, and it will be interesting to see whether Wim Koevermans gives him the start on Wednesday ahead of Clifford Miranda. If he does start, Ralte will come up against Ashraf Mahmud Linkon on Bangladesh’s right flank. While Linkon has become a regular member of the Bengal Tigers in recent times, Lalrindika hasn’t had the same fortunes with respect to a regular place in the Indian side. The game on Wednesday represents a bright chance for the Mizo winger to get back to form and also establish his place in the national side, whereas Linkon will hope that Ralte’s patchy form continues during the game. On the other hand, Linkon’s speed could also cause trouble on India’s left side, considering the fact that the defensive side of Ralte’s game isn’t his strongest.

Arnab Mondal vs Zahid Hasan Ameli

Arnab Mondal - Waiting for his Chance

Arnab Mondal’s tussle with Zahid Hasan Ameli will be interesting to watch.

Arnab Mondal was one of the most consistent performers in the Indian national team in 2013. The East Bengal centre-back has stepped up to the occasion whenever needed, and will again form the core of the Indian defence on Wednesday. Mondal’s tussle with Bangladeshi forward Zahid Hasan Ameli promises to be an exciting battle, with the former coming up against an experienced goal-poacher in Ameli. The most experienced player in the Bangladesh squad, Zahid Ameli, has previously scored against India, during the 2005 SAFF Cup in Pakistan, and will hope to add to that tally tomorrow. However, in Arnab Mondal, he will come up against an astute centre-back who will give him very little space to settle down. This duel, in particular, will be quite interesting to watch.