Match Preview: Guam vs India – AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifiers
Stadium: Thuwunna Youth Training Center Stadium, Yangon, Myanmar
Kick-off: Monday, March 4, 15:00 IST
Guam: A poor Start
Being the lowest ranked team in the group, Guam stood no chance on paper and thus the island nation didn’t surprise anyone with their dismal showing in the 5-0 defeat to hosts Myanmar. They provided very little resistance in their opening game and could get embarrassed against higher ranked India also on Monday if they don’t come up with a better showing. Guam have made some progress under English coach Gary White and the presence of several foreign-born players must have given them hope to cause an upset or two in the Challenge Cup qualifiers. But their performance in the opener is proof of the fact that they have a long way to go even to compete with the emerging nations of the continent.
The one thing that could work in favour of Guam is the fact that they have become even bigger underdogs now and both India and Chinese Taipei will be looking at them as whipping boys and will aim to win by big margins. Guam, who are placed fourteen spots below India at 181st in the FIFA Rankings, will be playing without fear, but they would also be determined to be disciplined in defence in order to avoid another heavy defeat. The foreign-based players must step up and justify their inclusion in the squad and coach White will surely be telling his team to focus more on the performance as a good showing will give them hope for the future. In terms of population of the two nations, this is a mismatch but it doesn’t work that way in sport and Guam will he hoping India has an off day.
India: Room for improvement
It wasn’t the most fluent performance by India but in the end they got the job done against Chinese Taipei and that could prove to be crucial in this qualifying campaign. Head coach Wim Koevermans surprised everyone by dropping reigning AIFF Player of the Year Syed Rahim Nabi to the bench; but he would be the first person to remind the critics that he got his team selection and substitutions spot on. Jewel Raja excelled in the number 10 role as he scored the opener and substitutes Nabi and Robin Singh combined to net the stoppage time winner. But the Dutchman would be aiming to wrap up the points early against Guam and with Myanmar winning 5-0, he would also look for a big victory as goal difference could eventually decide the group winners.
In the post-match press conference, Koevermans praised the team for their domination but also expressed disappointment on conceding from a set-piece. India cannot afford such complacency in the second game and would have to be much more clinical in front of goal while Subrata Pal will be desperate for a clean sheet. Some fresh legs might be needed as there will not be much recovery time between the two matches. It will be interesting to see whether Koevermans continues to play just one striker or whether Robin gets rewarded for his superb impact against Chinese Taipei. Nabi might also return to the first eleven but it remains to be seen if it’s in midfield or at fullback while CK Vineeth could also get included in place of Clifford Miranda on the left wing. India need a big win but the most important target will be three points as anything less could prematurely end their Australia 2015 dream.
Guam’s record in their last five matches justifies their tag of ‘international minnows’ and they will be unable to get rid of it if they lose all three of their qualifiers in Myanmar. Coach White will probably remind his players of the narrow defeats to Philippines and Hong Kong last year as a similar fighting performance will make the island nation very proud.
India’s narrow win over Chinese Taipei was their first on foreign soil in two years with the previous one also coming at the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers. India will be overwhelming favourites to beat Guam but they will have to guard against complacency as even the class of 2008 made heavy weather of so-called minnows like Bhutan and Afghanistan.
Guam: Ryan Guy
The 27-year-old MLS-based winger possibly has one of the best CVs among all the players in this qualifying tournament but wasn’t able to deliver in the first game. He must raise his game and inspire Guam to a much-improved display.
India: Sunil Chhetri
Sunil must find his scoring touch in this game as the Indian team ideally needs to record a big win. The India captain was lively in the first game but he will be aiming to be prolific against Guam and add to his impressive international goals tally.