Bangalore Football Stadium, Bangalore
17th April 2014, 15.30 IST


Asian Games bound U-23 sides of India and Pakistan clash with each other in a two match series to be hosted by JSW Sports at Bangalore. This is the first time the two nations are facing off after India labored to a 1-0 win over their arch rivals in the group stages of SAFF Championships last year. With the senior teams of both the nations failing to impress their respective fans with their performances, all eyes will be on the U-23 squads as to how the future internationals can impress. Both coaches will be looking to try out a few formations and utilize as many players in the two match series

In a major boast before the two match series, JSW Sports , who own and run Bengaluru FC – the I-League champions, decided to host the bilateral series. The city of Bengaluru thronged in large numbers to support Bengaluru FC in their maiden I-League campaign and are expected to be present in large number in the two matches as well. The last time a bilateral series was played between the two nations was in 2005 when India toured Pakistan for a three match series.

Team News And Tactical Brief


The India U-23 team consisting of three senior players – Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh and Francis Fernandes has been training together since the start of July. The team first trained at Bangalore where they played against a few local teams before departing for a training camp in Czech Republic where they played three practice matches. The team went down 1-0 to Senco Doubravka held FK Banik Most to 2-2 draw in the second match and ended their campaign with a 3-1 loss to TJ Domažlice in the third match. The key takeaway from the the tour was the fact that all three Indian goals came from skipper Sunil Chhetri while the other strikers and midfielders were guilty of missing easy chances.

Narayan Das will be a key figure in India U-23' s defense

Narayan Das will be a key figure in India U-23′ s defense

Pune FC goalkeeper Amrinder Singh is expected to start under the bar for the hosts. The flanks in the defense look settled with Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das occupying the right and the left back slots. TFA Cadet Narayan Das was arguably Dempo’s best player last season and has established himself as one the prominent left backs in the nation. At 21, Narayan is one of the brightest players in the nation and will look to utilize his senior team experience and contribute both offensively and at the back. The opposite flank will be occupied by Mohun Bagan right back Pritam Kotal. Just like Narayan, Pritam had an outstanding season for the Mariners where he notched up a few assists as well in addition to being solid at the back. It will be no surprise should he break into the senior team soon. The central defense has come under bit of a scanner and Koevermans has been criticized for not picking up any senior defender in the squad. Sandesh Jhinghan and Sporting defender Joyner Laourenco are expected to lineup at the heart of the defense if one is to go by the practice matches played in Czech Republic. Jhinghan has been rated highly and showed his talent in the second half of last season with Mumbai FC but he has been troubled by injuries of late. Joyner comes into the team on the back of an impressive season with the Flaming Orange. Pune FC defender Salam Singh could also been seen in action as Koevermans look to decide on the final formation.

As with senior team, Koevermans is likely to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation and former Arrow players Pranoy Halder looks set to be one of the double pivots  as was the case in the Czech tour. The Dempo midfielder is known for his tireless running and hard work and will have a key role to play in the team.  The second pivot was where Koevermans experimented with in the practice matches with Rowlin Borges, Milan Singh, Siam Hangal, Dhanpal Ganesh and even the more adventurous Lalrindika Ralte playing in that position. With plenty of I-League experience under them, it seems either of Rowlin or Siam have start the match.

Three out of the front four select themselves. Francis Fernandes has been central to Koevermans plan ever since the Dutch took over and the former Salgaocar winger will look to whip in his trademark crosses from the right wing. Skipper Sunil Chhetri was used on the left flank by Bengaluru FC and the top Indian goalscorer excelled in that position finishing as the joint top scorer in the I-League besides notching up several assists. He is likely to play behind Robin Singh in the the middle of the three man attacking unit.  East Bengal midfielder Lalrindika Ralte will occupy his favorite left position and the Pakistan defense will have to keep an eye on his long range shot. Should Koevermans start with or introduce Alwyn George , Sunil Chhetri is likely to play on the left as he does for Bengaluru FC. Robin Singh will start as the target man upfront and will look to make his senior team experience count at the U-23 level. Mandar Rao Desai and Haokip Thongkoshim may also been seen in action later in the game.

Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Amrinder Singh; Narayan Das, Sandesh Jhinghan, Joyner Laourenco, Pritam Kotal; Pranoy Halder, Siam Hangal; Lalrindika Ralte, Sunil Chhetri; Francis Fernandes, Robin Singh

Probable Starting XI

Probable Starting XI


Revenge would be on Pakistan’ s mind as they will look to avenge out their defeat to India in the SAFF Championships last year where they lost because of an own goal despite playing well. Coach Mohammad Shamlan from Bahrain has opted to go into the tournament without any of the high profile foreign based players and is relying on the local talent. The Shaheens as they are popularly known have played an attacking brand of football in the last one and are expected to go all out against an inexperienced Indian defense. As opposed to India, Pakistan have only senior player in their squad which as follows

Goalkeepers – Ahsan Ullah, Saqib Hanif, Muzammil Hussain

Defenders – Muhammad Ahmed (senior player), Muhammad Bilal, Muhammad Sohail, Muhammad Sulman, Faisal Iqbal (vice-captain), Ahsan Ullah, Mohsin Ali, Muhammad Salman, Amjad Hussain

Midfielders – Bilawal Ur Rehman, Mehmood Khan, Saddam Hussain, Naveed Ahmed, Sher Muhammad Baloch, Muhammad Adil, Sher Ali, Muhammad Zeeshan

Forwards – Mansoor Khan, Abdul Salam, Kaleem Ullah

Under the post Ahsan Ullah of the KRL FC is expected to call the shots. The 21 year old is an exciting prospect and has been the main choice goalkeeper since his debut against Lebanon last year. Ahsan is a good shot stopper and is known for his shot stopping skills. Vice captain Faisal Iqbal is expected to start at the right back spot and the 22 year old already has 18 international caps to his names and is a key player of the team. The opposite flank is likely to see Amjad Hussain in action. Both the full backs like to move forward in the attacking style of play and Indian defenders will have to keep an eye on their overlapping runs. The defense will be led by Muhammad Ahmed, the only senior player in the team who started in the heart of the defense against India in the SAFF Cup as well. Either of Muhammad Bilal or Muhammad Sohail are expected to figure along side Ahmed. Just like India, Pakistan have a relatively fragile defense and the defenders will have to be bring out their A game to stop Sunil Chhetri who is in fine form.

Saddam Hussain is the box to box midfielder in the 4-4-2 formation employed by coach. Operating as a deep lying play maker, Saddam is expected to drop back and help the central defenders when the full backs overlap.  His fine form in the 2013 AFC Presidents Cup with KRL as earned him a contract with Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek. Another KRL based player Mehmood Khan is expected to lineup alongside Saddam in the centre of the park. The duo have a good coordination among themselves as they play for the same club and their battle with Pranoy Halder and Indian midfielders could decide the course of the match. The second Pakistani player to be playing at Dordoi Bishkek, Muhammad Adil came into prominence after he gave nightmares to India’ s left back Mohnraj in the SAFF Championship last year. Adil, who won the 2014 Kyrgyzstan Super Cup with his club, is expected to start on the right flank once again. Muhammad Riaz will tread the left side as was the case in the SAFF Championship. The basis of Pakistani attacking flair is their strong midfield and the service that they provide to the front two.

Skipper Kaleem Ullah wil hold the key to Pakistan' s fortunes

Skipper Kaleem Ullah wil hold the key to Pakistan’ s fortunes

The third Dordoi Bishkek player in the Pakistani lineup Kaleem Ullah is expected to lead the attack for the 164th ranked side. At 22 years of age, Kaleem Ullah is the most important player in the team and is the captain of the squad. Kaleem Ullah would be looking to exploit the weak India defense and add to his goal tally. 20 year old Mansoor Khan is expected to start along side Kaleem Ullah and after having led his club Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to the domestic cup win last season, Mansoor will look to support his more illustrious striker partner and cement his place in the team.

Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Ahsan Ullah; Amjad Hussain, Muhammad Ahmed, Muhammad Bilal, Faisal Iqbal; Muhammad Riaz, Saddam Hussain, Mehmood Khan, Muhammad Adil; Kaleem Ullah, Mansoor Khan

Players To Watch Out For

Narayan Das (India)

Narayan Das became the first player from Jharkhand to wear the national team jersey when he started against Nepal last year. It is difficult to look beyond Sunil Chhetri whenever India plays but his senior team experience, Narayan Das will have a key role to play in the relatively inexperienced Indian defense. He will be up against  Muhammad Adil and if he can keep the right winger quiet, India will have the upper hand in the match.

Kaleem Ullah (Pakistan)

Kaleem Ullah was snapped up Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek after his exploits in the 2013 AFC Presidents club where he scored 7 goals. Kaleem Ullah has since scored 14 goals in as many matches for Dordoi Bishkek and is one of the hottest property in the Kyrgyzstan League having already won the 2014 Kyrgyzstan Super Cup . At 22 he is the leader of the team and will look to add to his tally against a weak Indian defense.


India 2-1 Pakistan

The first of the two matches between India and Pakistan is likely to witness attacking football as both the nations have relatively weak defense. The presence of Sunil Chhetri and Kaleem Ullah will ensure attacking flair in the match. TheHardTacle predicts India to ride on the home support and narrowly win the match.

Blast From The Past

We leave you with the highlights of the match played in SAFF Championship 2013