India’s Top Five performances against fellow emerging Asian nations
The India national team returns to action next month with an international friendly against Palestine in Kochi on February 6. Palestine are placed 14 spots above India in the FIFA Rankings at 152, and like India, are among the emerging nations of Asia who take part in the AFC Challenge Cup.
It’s fair to say that India’s performances against fellow emerging nations gives a good indication of their chances of qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup, and this match will provide the ideal preparation for the 2014 Challenge Cup qualifiers in March.
Sportskeeda starts the countdown to the Palestine match by listing India’s top five performances against fellow emerging Asian teams.
India 4-1 Tajikistan (2008 AFC Challenge Cup final)
This match was arguably the most important in the recent history of Indian football, as a win would take them to the Asian Cup for the first time since 1984. India were the hosts, with all matches scheduled to be played in Hyderabad, but the ground conditions there became unplayable due to incessant rain and thus the final was shifted to New Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium, where India had lifted the revamped Nehru Cup the previous year. Defending champions Tajikistan were the favourites, but they were blown away by Bob Houghton’s India side, who made the most of their home advantage by going three up in the first 23 minutes, thanks to a brace from local boy Sunil Chhetri and another strike from Bhaichung Bhutia. Tajikistan pulled one back before halftime but India’s three-goal advantage was restored in the second half as Sunil completed his hattrick to ensure India’s place in Qatar 2011.
After the 2011 Asian Cup, Bob Houghton had called up a number of youngsters for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in March 2011 with an eye at the 2015 Asian Cup. This new group of young players mostly came through the various age group teams under Colm Toal and impressed instantly as India defeated Chinese Taipei 3-0 and Pakistan 3-1 to ensure qualification even before the final game against the higher-ranked Turkmenistan. Houghton made several changes to the lineup for this game with Subrata Pal and Syed Rahim Nabi being the only players that had featured in the Asian Cup. Yet the youngsters stepped up and showed great resilience to hold Turkmenistan 1-1 after going a goal behind. Jeje Lalpekhlua, one of many youngsters who were playing their first international tournament, scored for the third straight game as India topped their qualifying group. Unfortunately, that proved to be Houghton’s last game as India coach, although several youngsters from that team still feature in the national side under Wim Koevermans.
Maldives 0-1 India (2008 SAFF Cup group stage)
Both Maldives and India had already qualified for the semis, having won their first two matches, so this encounter would decide the group winners, who would also avoid a semi-final clash against co-hosts Sri Lanka in Colombo. Maldives were the other co-hosts, so all the group games including this one were played in Male, Maldives. Despite the incentive of topping the group, Bob Houghton decided to rest several key players like captain Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Steven Dias, Climax Lawrenece, Mahesh Gwali and N.P. Pradeep, with Renedy Singh captaining a young-looking side. And that is why this performance stands out as several youngsters and fringe players stepped up as India defeated Maldives 1-0 in their own turf. The winner was scored by one of the few regulars who did play, Gouramangi Singh, who netted his first international goal, as the young India team showed great character to get the result despite being reduced to ten after the sending off of Samir Naik.
The 2012 Nehru Cup saw the start of the Wim Koevermans era and it was a positive beginning as India opened their campaign with a 2-0 win over Syria. India weren’t at their best in that game and simply took their chances in difficult playing conditions. In this match against Maldives too they started slowly and need goalkeeper Subrata Pal to make a few smart saves and then just before the halftime break India were awarded a penalty which skipper Sunil Chhetri converted. In the second half, it was all India as they turned on the style to run out 3-0 winners. Syed Rahim Nabi netted the second from a trademark Clifford Miranda corner and another good delivery from Francis Fernandes saw Sunil head in his second of the night. India’s performance in that second half has possibly been their best so far under Koevermans as they had a fine balance between the direct style and passing football and a similar display could be enough to beat Palestine next month.
Before that 4-1 thrashing of Tajikistan in the final, India had to work really hard to go past the group stage. In their opening game they needed an injury time winner from Climax Lawrence to beat minnows Afghanistan and only drew 1-1 with Tajikistan in the second game. Anything less than a win in the final group game against Turkmenistan would complicate their semi-final hopes, so it was virtually a must-win game. Due to heavy rain, the ground conditions at Hyderabad’s Gachibowli Stadium made it very difficult for both sides, as it remained goalless at the break. Then a certain Bhaichung Bhutia stepped up and opened the scoring. India needed a cushion goal to avoid a nervous finish and the India captain ensured that too by bagging the second from Renedy Singh’s corner. Turkmenistan did pull one back however, but India somehow held on to a 2-1 victory which crucially saw them top the group and avoid a semi-final clash against 2010 World Cuppers North Korea. That proved to be decisive as India defeated Myanmar while Tajikistan edged past North Korea and then we all know what happened in the final.