Match Preview: India vs Chinese Taipei - AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifiers
Stadium: Thuwunna Youth Training Center Stadium, Yangon, Myanmar
Kick-off: Saturday, March 2, 15:00 IST
The Wim Koevermans era got off to the perfect start last year as India retained the Nehru Cup but defeats in international friendlies against Singapore and Palestine were a timely reminder of where we stand on the international stage and for the first time on Saturday, the Dutchman will be under pressure to get a result as it will be his first competitive match. India are the second highest ranked team in the group but with only the group winners being assured of an automatic slot, Koevermans will be aiming to win all three games and not risk finishing among the best two second-placed teams. Unlike the two friendlies, the former Holland international was able to spend more time with his players in a preparatory camp in Pune but still has some concerns.
Koevermans criticised the AFC for scheduling the AFC Cup and Challenge Cup qualifiers around the same time which meant seven of his 23-man squad were in action for their club in midweek and also had to do a lot of travelling. At least five of those players are first-team regulars and it remains to be seen how many start in this first game and Koevermans might have to take a risk or two because anything less than a win won’t be good enough. The India coach might also be tempted to start with both Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua, a combination that worked very well in the 2012 Challenge Cup qualifiers two years ago. Koevermans has played only one upfront so far in his tenure but with the match being a must-win, he could be a bit more positive. The 52-year-old will also have to take a big call about who starts in goal as Subrata Pal has been out of form, Karanjit Singh has only returned from injury while Sandip Nandy had a poor outing against Palestine. The coach clearly has a lot in his plate but at the end of the day the players must perform and keep their Asian Cup 2015 dream alive.
Chinese Taipei will be slight underdogs on paper and will also be well aware of their poor recent record against India. The East Asian nation has failed to beat India in their last three meetings, having also suffered a 3-0 defeat two years ago in the 2012 Challenge Cup qualifiers. They were also held to a goalless draw by India’s Under-20 team in the 2006 Challenge Cup. Chinese Taipei will be eager to improve that statistic on Saturday and have had a good preparation ahead of the qualifiers as they had a 40-day training camp. Coach Chiang Mu-tsai also revealed that the squad is much different to the one that could manage just one point in four matches in the final qualifying stage of the 2013 East Asian Cup in December 2012.
The 1954 and 1958 Asian Games gold medalists haven’t been in action since their 0-8 defeat against Australia in December and it remains to be seen whether the lack of match practice at international level affects their performance in the opening game. However coach Chiang will be well aware that India are under more pressure and have fitness concerns and the Chinese Taipei tactician will be looking to make the most of it. The current Chinese Taipei squad does lack a bit of experience but the failure to qualify for the last three editions of the Challenge Cup will certainly push them on to perform well above themselves and end their winless run against India.
India have lost their last two internationals but both of them were against higher ranked opponents. They have also failed to win in their last eleven matches abroad with the last victory coming against arch-rivals Pakistan at the 2012 Challenge Cup qualifiers in March 2011.
Chinese Taipei: LLDLL
That draw in the last five games came against minnows Guam and only thanks to a late equaliser. Chinese Taipei’s last win also came against Guam at the Philippines Peace Cup last year and their last victory against a higher ranked nation came two years ago against Malaysia in a 2014 World Cup qualifying tie.
India: Sunil Chhetri
The India captain has three international goals against Chinese Taipei including one in his very first game as national skipper in March 2011. Sunil completed 89 minutes for Churchill Brothers in the AFC Cup on Tuesday and will be eager to inspire India to a winning start.
Chinese Taipei: Chen Po-liang
The current Chinese Taipei skipper scored in the 2-2 draw with India in Chennai five years ago and will be determined to repeat that performance and result against India. Wim Koevermans’ side will have to come up with a plan to stop this goal scoring midfielder.